Among the windswept pine
trees of Joint Base Cape Cod, 14
Soldiers battled it out in the 2016
Army National Guard Best Warrior
Competition to earn the title of
Army Guard Soldier and Noncommissioned
Officer of the Year.
At the end of the competition,
Army Sgt. Calvin Koziol, an
infantryman with the Nebraska
Army National Guard's C Company
(Long Range Surveillance),
1st Squadron, 134th Cavalry Regiment,
was named Soldier of the
Year while Army Staff Sgt. Dirk
Omerzo, an instructor with the
Pennsylvania Army National
Guard's 3rd Battalion, 166th Regiment
(Regional Training Institute),
was named the NCO of the Year.
Both will move on to compete
in the 2016 all-Army Best
Warrior Competition, scheduled for
October, where they will compete
against Soldiers from throughout
the Army to be named the Army's
Soldier and NCO of the Year.
"It's really surreal," said
Koziol after the winners were announced.
"It's hard to believe. It's a
Omerzo agreed. "I'm not really
one for all the attention, but it's
amazing," he said.
The competition stood as a
grueling three-day test that stressed
competitors both physically and
mentally. For Omerzo, winning the
competition was a surprise.
"I did very poorly on the
ruck march today," he said. "When
I came in and saw the leader board
was updated and I was at the top, I
was blown away."
The 14-mile ruck march
was only one part of the competition
that put competitors through
their paces on a variety of tactical
and technical skills ranging from
weapons to first aid to land navigation.
"This week just really put it
to us," said Omerzo. "I expended a
lot of energy on the land nav lanes
and I just didn't have any energy in
my legs for the ruck march."
That was, in part, the intent
of the competition.
"One of my initial instructions
to the NCOs running all the
events was I do not want this to be
easy," said Command Sgt. Maj.
Carlos Ramos Rivera, the state
command sergeant major for the
Massachusetts National Guard,
which was the host for this year's
competition. "This has to be an absolute
challenge for all the competitors.
I want them to struggle. I
want them to push as hard as they
absolutely, possibly can."
Ramos Rivera's team was
successful in that regard. "It's been
pretty exhausting," said Army Staff
Sgt. Logan Gehlhausen, an infantry
instructor with the Indiana Army
National Guard's 138th Regiment
(Regional Training Institute), who
took second place in the NCO category.
"They've definitely stacked
the events up back-to-back. It's
very physically demanding. They
definitely made it challenging,
which it should be at this level."
The goal was to give competitors
a sense for the next level,
the all-Army competition.
"We want to prepare them
to the best extent possible for that
competition," said Ramos Rivera.
"We try to anticipate what the sergeant
major of the Army is going
to do at his level and replicate
Competitors worked their
way up to the Army Guard-level
competition through several competitions
beginning at the unit
level. While the skills they were
tested on at each competition were
similar, this year's Army Guard
competition had a unique element
to it: the location.
"The Massachusetts National
Guard is not only the birthplace
of the National Guard, it's the
birthplace of the United States
Army," said Ramos Rivera. "What
more fitting location to recognize
and identify the absolute best
among our Soldiers and NCOs?"
Keeping with that historical
tie, the ruck march event took
place along the "Battle Road" between
Lexington and Concord,
starting and ending at the Old
North Bridge where in April 1775
the first shots of the Revolutionary
War were fired.
"The ruck march had to be
here at this location," said Ramos
Others agreed. "It's especially
significant to our Soldiers,
and Army National Guard Soldiers,
that we're doing the road march
here," said Command Sgt. Maj.
Christopher Kepner, the sergeant
major of the Army National Guard,
who completed the 14-mile ruck
march alongside the competitors.
As the competition unfolded,
Kepner said it was motivating
watching the competitors excel.
"My favorite part about this is seeing
Soldiers doing their best and
elevating the Soldiers around them
to do their best," he said. "When
we have these competitions, it
brings everybody up a notch.
And that spreads beyond the competition
itself,” said Kepner.
"When these Soldiers go back to
their organizations, even if they
don't win this competition, the fact
that they are here, the Soldiers and
the organization they belong to
stand up a little bit taller, they try a
little bit harder," he said.
Omerzo said being around
the other competitors made him
push a little harder at each event.
"All those guys were awesome
and I really enjoyed competing
against those guys," he said.
"They were very difficult to compete
against. Every event there was
a different person who was strong."
For Omerzo, winning this
year's competition is a comeback
of sorts. "I competed last year, lost
at my region level," he said. "I
wanted to come back and I wanted
to win my region. Once I won my
region, obviously I wanted to keep
Staying competition ready
has meant constant training, said
Omerzo. "I've been training for
over a year," he said. "There have
been ups and downs with my training
regimen, but I've been doing
everything I can think of for the
past year.” Omerzo added that
without support from others he
wouldn't have been as successful.
"My mentor has been amazing
throughout the last year leading up
to this point," he said.
Koziol said similar support
from his unit allowed him to just
keep pushing himself. "You have
to dig deep and find it within yourself
to just keep pushing and make
sure you finish," he said. "It's just
one step at a time, really."
For both Omerzo and
Koziol, the next step is ensuring
they're ready to compete in October,
"My plan now is to keep up
my physical fitness, study a lot and
just go over all the tasks I can possibly
think of," Koziol said.
Though, no matter how
they do at the next level, both said
it's rewarding simply being able to
"They put on a great competition,"
said Omerzo. "I just want
to say thank you to everybody that
helped. The competition was awesome."
Koziol agreed. "You don't
get to do this every day," he said.
"It's something I'll remember forever."
Sgt. 1st Class Jon Soucy