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Camp Navajo hosts 2021 Army National Guard Best Warrior Competition

Competitors for the 2021 Army National Guard Best Warrior Competition prepare to clear a shipping container at Camp Navajo in Bellemont, Arizona during a 20-event competition July 19-23.  (Loretta McKenney/WGCN)

Competitors for the 2021 Army National Guard Best Warrior Competition prepare to clear a shipping container at Camp Navajo in Bellemont, Arizona during a 20-event competition July 19-23. (Loretta McKenney/WGCN)

CAMP NAVAJO, Ariz. — A national competition to test the skills and endurance of U.S. soldiers was held last week at Camp Navajo in Bellemont, Arizona.

After four days of grueling events, Sgt.William T. Lukens, 22, with the Tennessee Army National Guard in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, defeated 12 competitors to become the top warrior for the Army National Guard.

The competition, held July 19-23, tested soldiers on a variety of tactical and technical skills as they vied to be named the Army National Guard’s Soldier of the Year. Lukens will now go on to represent the National Guard in the U.S. Army’s Best Warrior Competition later this year.

This was the first year that Arizona hosted the national competition, which was held at Camp Navajo and in Florence, Arizona.

“It (is) a real test of who is the best of the best,” said Sergeant Major Scott Flint of the Arizona State Command of the Army National Guard. “We are very fortunate that we get an opportunity as the National Guard to participate in that event and to really showcase the National Guard — that citizen soldier, what we can do.”

Flint said it was a privilege to host the event, which he said takes many months of planning.

“This is definitely a group effort,” he said. “We’re very fortunate to get picked to host the national event this year.”

Flint said the warrior competition is important to National Guard members because it allows them to compete, perform and inspire others who are serving.

“It’s super important,” Flint said. “They learn a lot, they learn about the military, they learn about themselves. It is very, very emotional and physically and mentally taxing. We really push them to their limits and show them what they can do as a soldier.”

The 2020 winner, Arizona National Guard Sgt. Daniel D’Ippolito was on hand helping to coordinate and execute the 2021 competition.

D’Ippolito was the first soldier from Arizona to qualify for the competition in 2020. He said the 2021 competitors were highly qualified and did very well throughout the event.

“They’ve shown a lot of heart,” he said. “A lot of technical, tactical proficiency. We’ve really tried to slant this competition to make it a little more realistic heavy rather than training environment heavy. We’ve put in a lot of things like clearing jams out of weapons or how to extract from mine fields — things that are a little more field based… we added a lot of things that we feel soldiers should know as a combat entity.”

The 20-event competition evaluated participants on various categories including physical fitness challenges, warrior tasks and battle drills, marksmanship proficiency, water survival, medical evacuation tasks and general military knowledge.

“Overall they did great and learned a lot along the way,” D’Ippolito said. “We just wanted to make it as hard as possible.”

D’Ippolito said training and preparing for an event like the best warrior competition takes time and while the physical training is a big part of it, he said there is also a lot of core knowledge competitors are evaluated on as well.

“One of the biggest parts is the knowledge aspect,” he said. “The Army will test you on your (military) knowledge, doctrine, regulation, anything that is administrative in the Army world and technical details of just common soldier tasks.”

He said competitors also go before an oral board and are evaluated on their confidence and public speaking skills.

“They want to see if you can perform under pressure… they want to test your military presence and bearing,” he said.

D’Ippolito said for him and other competitors, seeking out a mentor was key to winning the event.

“Typically a lot of the high performers will seek mentorship,” he said. “Whatever assets that their state has… they’ll pull them aside and say ‘Hey, can you please mentor this soldier and make sure he’s on the right track.’ That’s what happened with me and it really did make a difference.”

From this event, Lukens proceeds to the U.S. Army’s Best Warrior Competition to represent the National Guard this fall.

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