CAMP ZAMA, Japan -- Competitors in the U.S. Army Japan Best Warrior Competition here included a musician, an information technology specialist and a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense operator, among other military occupational specialties.
Together, the 18 competitors took on a series of 33 challenges over the course of four days that tested their mental and physical stamina. In addition to a combat run, obstacle course and 12-mile ruck march, many of the events focused on combat-related skills such as weapons proficiency, radio operations and call-for-fire expertise.
Maj. Gen. Viet X. Luong, USARJ commander, said organizers designed the competition that way for a reason: “A lot of times you don’t choose combat, but combat chooses you,” he said.
“It doesn’t matter who you are … you could be doing a completely different function that is not combat-related, but we may need you to step up and go do that,” Luong told the competitors at the awards ceremony July 23. “We don’t call it the ‘Best Soldier Competition.’ We don’t care what your MOS is. We call it the ‘Best Warrior Competition’ for that reason.”
Luong said it is important that Soldiers maintain readiness during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the competition was one way to do that.
The competition began July 20, and Master Sgt. Maximo Nunez, assigned to the 35th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion and the noncommissioned officer in charge of the competition, said that throughout the competition, organizers ensured everyone involved observed COVID-19 precautions such as mask wearing and social distancing.
“We wanted to make it as rigorous—as tough—as we could, while also abiding by the guidance on COVID-19,” Nunez said.
Nunez said the Soldiers competed at the unit level to make it to the competition, and they all came prepared. “You can tell these are the best of the best,” he said.
In the end, Sgt. Zachariah Storm, a medic assigned to U.S. Army Medical Activity – Japan, won the title of best noncommissioned officer, and Spc. H. Londagin, a military intelligence analyst assigned to the 38th Air Defense Artillery Brigade, won the title of best Soldier.
The pair will go on to compete in the U.S. Army Pacific Command Best Warrior Competition in Hawaii in September, Nunez said. The winners of that competition will then go on to compete at the Department of the Army competition in October.
Storm said he enjoyed the competition and his fellow competitors impressed him.
“I enjoyed learning from my peers,” Storm said. “It was very, very rewarding to see the things that they’re good at and learn from them and experience the different parts of the competition that really challenge you in every way, shape and form.”
Londagin said he encourages other Soldiers to participate in competitions.
“I would encourage them to do it for one primary reason, and that is to strengthen their overall basic Soldier attributes, their basic Soldier capabilities, including medical, radio transmission (and) live-fire weaponry,” Londagin said. “All of these skills are key to a Soldier’s growth and development.”
Other competitors said they enjoyed the challenge and plan to take the knowledge they gained to their units.
Sgt. Malik Cunningham, an information technology specialist assigned to the 1st Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group, Okinawa, said the competition highlighted for him the importance of basic Soldier skills. He said he plans to work with his Soldiers on how to call for fire and react to contact, for example, when he returns to his unit.
Cunningham said he also enjoyed meeting Soldiers from a variety of units and occupational specialties.
Meanwhile, Pfc. Austin Tabb, assigned to the 1st Battalion, 1st Air Defense Artillery Regiment, 38th Air Defense Artillery Brigade, Okinawa, said he participated in the competition because he wanted to better himself.
“It’s not an opportunity a lot of people get, and I could learn something from it, win or lose,” Tabb said. “There are a lot of good people (who competed), and I learned a lot.”
U.S. Army Garrison Japan Command Sgt. Maj. Billy Norman, who attended events, mentored Soldiers and headed the board portion of the competition, said he was glad that despite COVID-19, organizers were able to get all the Soldiers together for the competition.
Not only was the competition good for camaraderie, it also helped develop Soldiers and prove the importance of perseverance, Norman said.
“It shows our Soldiers that despite what’s going on, as long as we do it in a safe way, we can still get out there and do great things,” Norman said. “The competition impacts our readiness and staying after it and being ready to fight tonight. It all ties in together.”