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Soldier of the Year competition  
By Army Capt. Michael Odgers, Colorado Army National Guard Public Affairs Officer 
Soldier of the Year 
Colorado Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Robert Henry, a Warrior Leader Course instructor with the 168th Regional Training Institute, competes in the 6-mile road march  portion of the COARNG’s Noncommissioned Officer of the Year competition, March 10, 2010, in Watkins Colo. (Official U.S. Army photo by Capt. Michael Odgers/Released)
WATKINS, Colo. (3/7/10) – Staff Sgt. Robert Henry, 168th Regional Training Institute, and Spec. Ryan L. Teeter, Company D, 5th Battalion 19th Special Forces Group, won the final competition as Colorado Army National Guard’s Noncommissioned Officer of the Year and Soldier of the Year, respectively.

They will represent the COARNG in a regional competition in Hawaii April 30 through May 2.

After successfully completing battalion-level and then brigade-level appearance boards, these Soldiers know how it feels to be challenged.

“The competition was very tight. While I only had one competitor, I feel we pushed each other hard, which can be seen by how close the two of us finished,” said Henry.

“I appreciate the efforts of the 19th Special Forces (Group) and fellow competitors, and the support of my mentors at RTI, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Elsa Gipson, Staff Sgt. Sarah France and Staff Sgt. O'duore Mayomi.”

Henry, who considers board appearances his strong suit, thought this competition allowed him to identify his weaknesses and areas he needs to improve in order to be more competitive at the regional – and hopefully the national – Best Warrior competition. Henry’s goal is to represent Colorado at the highest level.

Henry, a Warrior Leader Course instructor, intends to utilize his position as well as training with the Pre-mobilization Training Assistance Element to improve his basic Soldiering skills and warrior training tasks.

The state-level competition included an appearance board, weapons qualification, weapons assembly, land navigation and a scenario event that entailed multiple warrior training tasks.

“The whole event was great training! My first sergeant and I were surprised at how well the event was put on,” Teeter exclaimed. “The qualification under stress was pretty exciting. I never got to try to qualify with my weapon while artillery simulators and smoke grenades were going off.

“Anytime I can shove my first sergeant to the ground and yell at him is a good time,” Teeter laughed.

Teeter, who also plans to win the regional competition, feels the high amount of realistic training that special forces conducts will help to make him more competitive.

For example, one of the scenario events had participants rescue a Soldier from a building filled with enemy combatants as well as non-combatants. Competitors demonstrated room clearing and engagement techniques, administered first aid, called for medical evacuation and even had to engage the enemy using combatives. Combatives is a formal Army program of instruction designed to teach Soldiers close-quarters combat techniques. It’s part of the national-level and occasionally the regional-level competition.

To add another facet of complexity to the competition, event trainers yelled, asked a barrage of questions and used smoke and artillery simulations to elevate competitors’ stress levels.

As an emergency medical technician in Commerce City, Colo., Teeter said he felt the medical evaluation training under stress was both exciting and beneficial.

“It was a challenging event the special forces put on,” said Sgt. Steven Leflar of Company A, 2nd Battalion, 135th General Support Aviation. “The stress like the ‘arty sims’ (artillery simulators) during the weapons qual(ification) made the event even more challenging.”  

The SOY and NCOY competition has evolved significantly in the past several years. Historically, Soldiers competed by appearing in person before a board of sergeants major to demonstrate their best military bearing while answering a wide range of standardized military questions.

However, the appearance board now accounts for only 25 percent of a Soldier’s overall score. The remainder of the score is calculated though the competitor’s demonstration of Soldier skills, physical fitness and warrior training tasks.

Approximately seven years ago, common training tasks and the Army physical fitness test were added to the SOY and NCOY competition. The thought was this would increase the level of competition, but some still felt there needed to be more.

“Between 2004 and 2005 the National ‘Best Warrior’ competition introduced Warrior Training Tasks and battle drills to create a more real-world competition,” said Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth O. Preston. “It has also allowed us to identify training weaknesses. Combatives, for example, might not be a normal part of training for a low-density unit, but in order to be more competitive, units have added the program to their training. These changes become institutionalized and part of our Army culture.”

Preston also believes the Soldier of the Year competition is still a local program for which company commanders and first sergeants can train, mentor and showcase their Soldiers.

“It’s a scenario-driven event,” said COARNG Command Sgt. Maj. Daniel Lousberg. “Soldiers need to know how to perform several warrior training tasks during the scenario. You no longer have the luxury of walking up to a station and completing your tasks. It has gone from book learning and rote memorization to now hands-on in the field. Army Doctrine changed. Common training tasks were designed to be taught and evaluated at a station, but the Warrior Training Tasks were designed to be conducted in a field environment as part of normal training, so the competition morphed into what it is today.”

And, according to Lousberg, the change has sparked curiosity among the troops.

These changes not only provide a more well rounded Soldier, but have completely changed the dynamics of the competition. “No longer is the Solider of the Year Competition a trivia contest in service dress,” joked Lousberg.

“There’s a lot more interest,” he said, “but the problem is it has become a lot more resource-intensive. You need personnel to run a range, forecast ammunition and run a land navigation range. One piece we struggle with at the state level is that at the national level, they incorporate combatives. We lack the basic and master instructors needed to conduct the necessary training. At times they may not see that until they reach the national level.”

Lousberg also hopes to change the format of the state-level competition by increasing the number of Soldiers competing in the hands-on portion. Soldiers who may not score well at a physical board may excel in the field at basic Soldier skills.

“The more Soldiers we have, the more competitive it will be, increasing our chances of winning at the regional and national levels,” said Lousberg.

The 2008 winner of the Best Warrior Competition was Staff Sgt. Michael Noyce Merino of the Montana National Guard. He beat both active and reserve-component Soldiers to take home the Army award.

However, Lousberg’s ultimate goal is to see a Colorado Guardsman represent the National Guard at the national level Best Warrior Competition.

With increased state participation and the challenging training COARNG’s special forces can provide, Lousberg is confident that Colorado will take the “Best Warrior” title just like Montana.