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Around the Florida National Guard

News | Feb. 4, 2024

50th Regional Support Group’s best warriors compete

By Sgt. 1st Class Shane Klestinski 50th Regional Support Group

Nine Florida Army National Guard Soldiers assigned to units within to the 50th Regional Support Group (RSG) reported to Camp Blanding Joint Training Center, Florida, to compete at the brigade level of the Best Warrior Competition (BWC) on Feb. 1, 2024.

Over three days, contest officials tested these Soldiers’ strengths and proficiencies in several different warrior tasks and drills that are core skill sets in the U.S. Army. While all the competitors completed the same challenges, the BWC put them in two categories based on their rank. Privates through specialists (E-1 to E-4) compete for the title of “Soldier of the Year,” while sergeants through sergeants first class (E-5 to E-7) compete for “NCO of the Year.”

“We challenge them physically and mentally in a stressful environment to test core competencies, as well as other skills they may not have received at their units, to ensure we reinforce those skills at a high proficiency level,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Thomas Delano, the 50th RSG’s command sergeant major. “As we’ve conducted these contests, we’ve found that Soldiers like being challenged, and that enthusiasm spreads across formations as the competitors take what they learn from the BWC back to their units. Not only does sharing of knowledge improve the Guard’s overall readiness, but Soldiers who feel challenged are more satisfied with their military experience, and they’re more likely to reenlist.”

The weekend’s contest at Camp Blanding was only the most recent round in the BWC for these Soldiers, who had already advanced from similar competitions at their company and battalion levels.

On the first day, the Soldiers completed an Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT) as soon as they arrived. Following the ACFT, a “mystery event” required competitors to lead preparatory physical fitness drills. Contest officials planned mystery events throughout the weekend’s competition that contestants did not know about ahead of time.

The second day began with a de facto nighttime land navigation course that became a daytime land navigation course as the sun rose, challenging competitors to find four points in five hours. Next, competitors received evaluation in a call-for-fire exercise, as well as a variety of testing stations that covered disassembly/assembly of multiple weapons, calling in a nine-line medevac request, and applying a tourniquet to stop a hemorrhage. In the day’s last event, Soldiers ran through an obstacle course where contest officials timed them as they negotiated nine different challenges.

The final day challenged contestants with a 12-mile ruck march carrying a 35-pound pack, which began before the sun came up, and competitors had to complete it in under three hours. After a brief recovery period, Soldiers completed the final mystery event, which consisted of writing an essay and taking a general knowledge test. As the contestants completed the academic portion, they took turns answering questions on weapons, Army regulations and other topics before a board of senior enlisted noncommissioned officers.

Delano said that Soldiers who want to compete in a future BWC should begin with physical preparation. Next year, the 50th RSG’s Best Warrior Competition will involve greater physical demands.

After BWC organizers tallied the final scores, Spc. Nicanor Echeverria, a combat medic assigned to Bravo Company, 260th Military Intelligence Battalion, took the title of Soldier of the Year. Echeverria describes himself as “a proud Floridian” and recently returned to Florida after 11 years of active duty, most recently in Vicenza, Italy. In his civilian life, he works at the Veterans Services Office and attends the University of South Florida where he studies business management.

Staff Sgt. Austin Jensen was named NCO of the Year. Jensen is the S-2 noncommissioned officer in charge assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 50th RSG. He returned to drilling status approximately a year ago after completing four years of active duty operational support orders, and he now works as a military contractor as a civilian. He also recently graduated from the Army’s Air Assault School just a week prior to the contest, which he credits as having helped him prepare for the BWC.

“The world we face today is complex and the threats are ever-changing,” said Col. Jeremey Davis, 50th RSG commander, during an awards ceremony on Feb. 3 that recognized the competitors’ efforts. “New threats emerge, demanding Soldiers who are adaptable, innovative and capable of operating in dynamic environments. The skills you’ve shown will be crucial in navigating these new challenges.”

Echeverria and Jensen will continue their BWC journeys at the state-level competition that will take place in Camp Blanding in late February/early March.