Warriors Conquer Grueling Test

Hawaii Scout, West Virginia Sergeant Earn Top Honors in Guard Best Warrior Competition

In the shadow of Utah’s Wasatch Mountains, 14 competitors from throughout the Guard battled it out in the 2015 Army National Guard Best Warrior Competition for the honor of being named Soldier of the Year and Noncommissioned Officer (NCO) of the Year.

Specialist Cruser Barnes of the Hawaii Guard takes a short breather during the ruck march event of the 2015 National Guard Best Warrior Competition at Camp Williams, UT. Barnes was named Guard Soldier of the Year. —Photo by SFC Jon Soucy

Specialist Cruser Barnes of the Hawaii Guard takes a short breather during the ruck march event of the 2015 National Guard Best Warrior Competition at Camp Williams, UT. Barnes was named Guard Soldier of the Year. —Photo by SFC Jon Soucy

At the end of the competition, held at Camp Williams, Utah, Specialist Cruser Barnes, a cavalry scout with the Hawaii Guard’s Troop A, 1st Squadron, 299th Cavalry Regiment, was named Soldier of the Year, while Sergeant Robert Cunningham, a combat engineer with the West Virginia Guard’s 119th Engineer Company (Sapper), was named the NCO of the Year. Both will move on to compete in the 2015 all-Army Best Warrior Competition in October at Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia, where they will compete against Soldiers from throughout the Army to be named the Army’s Soldier and NCO of the Year.

Barnes said he’s ready to take on the challenges that come with moving to the next level of competition. “I’m stoked and ready to start training for the next event. I’ve got some time — it’s not until October — but I’m ready to get in it and give it my best.”

The Utah competition stood as a grueling three-day test that stressed competitors both physically and mentally.

“It pushes you to your limits,” Cunningham said. “[You’re stressed] and it really teaches you what it takes to be a well-rounded Soldier.”

To make it to the Army Guard-level competition, the competitors worked their way up from winning unit-level Best Warrior Competitions and through several more competitions.

“These Soldiers are already five-time winners,” explained Army Guard Command Sergeant Major Brunk W. Conley. “They’ve already won their unit Best Warrior competition, the battalion, the brigade, the state, the regional. These folks have been in competition for months now. They’ve already demonstrated what it takes to compete and win.”

For Cunningham, this year’s event marked his second time competing in the Army Guard-level competition. He took part in last year’s competition at Camp Joseph T. Robinson, AR, and said that while both competitions were equally strenuous, the terrain and higher elevation of Camp Williams brought added challenges.

“The higher you get, the less oxygen you have,” he said. “With the miles we’re putting in, it’s harder to feed those lungs oxygen, so you’re wearing down faster, you’re tired faster, and you’re sucking for air. But it’s about equal for everyone here.”

Barnes agreed. “The elevation and the air is totally different here. It’s really dry, so it’s totally different when you’re running.”

The competition began with the Army Physical Fitness Test, consisting of pushups, sit-ups and a two-mile run. From there, competitors toughed it out in a number of events that covered marksmanship, close quarters combat, land navigation, casualty evaluation and a variety of other tactical and technical skills. In all, they ran or traversed more than 20 miles of terrain over the course of the competition.

Barnes said the stress shoot event, in which competitors engaged multiple targets at several stations spread over a six-mile course, was one of the most challenging. “It was pretty challenging to do that whole course and shoot, move and run between ranges, then calm down and shoot again.”

For Cunningham, getting through the competition was a matter of focusing on one task at a time. “Basically you just tell yourself one more task. It’s just one more task, get to the next one, and then the next one. Whether you perform well or you perform poorly, you just put it behind you and focus on the next one and put one foot in front of the other and keep breathing and stay cool, calm and collected.”

Though it’s designed as a competition, the larger focus is the training value for those in the event, Conley said. Many of the events were developed and supervised by Soldiers from the Utah Guard’s 19th Special Forces Group.

“Special Forces are really integrated into this. They have a lot of equipment, a lot of experience and leaders who are using that to stress our warriors and test them to the highest level,” Conley said. “The real winners are their units, when they (the competitors) go back and they share their experiences with their peers and their subordinates and they take everything they’ve learned here and they put it into practice.”

For Barnes and Cunningham, the next step is putting into practice what they’ve learned in preparation for the all-Army competition. Both said they expect it to be even more grueling.

“[I’m going to] try and ramp up training as much as possible and push my body to new limits,” Barnes said. “Each competition you need to figure out what you’re weak at and train more and just work on those things.”

Cunningham said he will mentally prepare himself to get through it the same way he pushed himself through each previous competition. “Basically, you just tune out the pain. You focus on good thoughts — your friends, your family back home, and all the great opportunities and blessings just to be here. Once you put that into perspective, then the pain you feel is relatively miniscule.”

For now, Cunningham stands in awe of being named Army Guard NCO of the Year. “It’s an honor being able to represent all 350,000 [Soldiers in the Army Guard]. To be distinguished like that is an honor and a really humbling experience.”

If you’d like to pursue a career that lets you push yourself to new limits, visit the National Guard jobs board and contact a recruiter today.


Story and photo, by SFC Jon Soucy and courtesy of GX magazine, were originally published online on July 9, 2015. GX magazine is an official publication of the Army National Guard.

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July’s Hot Job Is … the 15 Aviation Series

Each month throughout 2015, On Your Guard is spotlighting a “hot job.” What defines these featured jobs as “hot”? One all-important benchmark: number of times people searched for it on the National Guard jobs board. For July, we’re featuring the whole 15 series of aviation military occupational specialties. Specifically, 15P, 15Q and 15W have each received hundreds of job board views recently.

Aviation in the Army National Guard

blackhawk mechanicTell the truth: When you see an awesome military helicopter in the sky or on TV, your mind doesn’t automatically think, “That must be the Army National Guard.” Perhaps you’d even protest, “There’s no ‘air’ in ‘Army.’”

If so, you’d be wrong. Aviation is not just for the Air Force or the Air Guard and Reserves. In fact, in addition to being able to pursue a Warrant Officer career as a pilot in the Army Guard, you can choose from more than a dozen military occupational specialties (MOS) that support aviation operations at the enlisted level.

Here’s a quick look at all the exciting careers you’ll find under “Aviation” in the Category dropdown menu of the National Guard jobs board. Click the links to view nationwide job openings and read more detailed descriptions.

15P Aviation Operations Specialist

Aviation Operations Specialists are the brains behind coordinating one of the largest fleets of aircraft in the world. They schedule and dispatch tactical aircraft missions; process flight clearances; plan flight schedules and crew assignments; keep flight logs and more. In other words, if “organized” is your middle name, this MOS is for you. Called a “flight operations specialist” in the civilian world, 15P training qualifies you to work for commercial and private airlines, air transport companies, and airports.

15Q Air Traffic Control Operator

There’s nothing “behind-the-scenes” about air traffic control. Everyone knows about the guts it takes to be in charge of an airfield’s takeoffs and landings. And the position deserves all the glory it gets for its role in keeping everyone safe. If you have nerves of steel and amazing powers of focus, then you’ll be ready to take on the 14 weeks of Advanced Individual Training (AIT) after Basic Combat Training that it takes to learn how to visually track aircraft and provide proper landing and take-off instructions. Becoming an Air Traffic Control Operator for the Guard also directly qualifies you to work in civilian airports’ air traffic control towers.

15W UAV Operator

Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Operator is another MOS that requires nerves of steel. 15Ws are trained Intelligence Specialists who operate unmanned aircraft to collect and supply critical information to Soldiers on the ground. And, if you want to fast-track your way to becoming a commercial pilot, UAV Operator may be the path to consider. 15W is the only MOS that offers flight training at the enlisted level. While the 23 weeks of required AIT primarily focuses on teaching you how to operate complex UAV systems, the training includes the FAA ground schooling that’s required to become a pilot.

Helicopter Repairers

Sure, helicopter pilots shine in the spotlight, and maybe your ultimate goal is to sit in the cockpit one day. But there are also a lot of heroes dedicated to keeping those mechanical birds safe and ready to fly. The Army National Guard’s impressive fleet of helicopters requires a highly specialized maintenance team trained to inspect, maintain, and repair each type of whirly bird. From the Apache (AH-64) and Kiowa (OH-58D) combat helicopters to the Black Hawk (UH-60) utility and Chinook (CH-47) workhorse transport helicopters, you can get the skills needed to keep the Guard flying high, as well as your civilian career. Your training in any of the following military occupational specialties will prepare you for a future with aircraft manufacturers, commercial airlines, private charter companies, and more:

System Repairers

The Guard’s aviation maintenance team also includes a slew of highly trained fix-it experts who can repair and maintain the special systems (electrical, communications, navigation, weapons, pneudraulics, etc.) built into the Guard’s complex aircraft. You’ll have a longer AIT with these jobs, but the skills you gain will be worth it. The following MOS job descriptions will give you the low-down on each specialty:

If aviation is your passion, perhaps now your mind will automatically think, “I can do that in the Army National Guard.” Learn more by visiting the jobs board and contacting a recruiter today.

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Guard Spotlight: Alaska Wildfire Response


Alaska National Guard fights Alaska wildfires
This summer has been full of wildfires throughout Alaska. Numerous firefighting teams have been called up from the lower United States to help in the fight. One of the teams that have joined in the fight is a local team, the Alaska Army National Guard. Using two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters and Bambi-Buckets, the Alaska Army National Guard teams have been performing firefighting missions in coordination with the Bureau of Land Management, Fire Services based out of Fort Wainwright, Alaska. On Friday, June 26, the team flew their aircraft down to Tok, Alaska, to assist in fighting a few large fires in the area. Using internal aircraft communications, the crew chief Sgt. Philip Peter talked to the pilots Chief Warrant Officer 4 Nyle Harrison and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Molly Reque to guide them onto ponds. From that point the crew used the Bambi-Bucket to gather around 800 gallons of water and fly to the selected area of the fire to extinguish the flames in that location. The dropping of the water could be controlled by either the pilots or the crew chief. The teams worked with the fire mission flight controller, who circled the area in a plane and guided both the helicopters and skimmer aircraft onto flare up areas. Both the helicopters and skimmers took turns bombarding the fire filled trees with water until they reached their flight time limits. (Photo by Sherman Hogue/Fort Wainwright PAO)

Eleven crews from the Alaska National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 207th Aviation Regiment have spent the past month battling wildfires from above in their UH-6 Black Hawk helicopters. Following the hottest May ever recorded and an early snow cover melt off, the state’s dry forests and tundra fell victim to lightning strikes that sparked hundreds of fires in June. A total of 319 fires were still raging simultaneously across the state at the end of last month, and more than 1.1 million acres of land had burned.

The 1-207th crews joined some 2,700 other firefighters working to combat the blazes that threaten populated areas. Fires in remote areas are monitored closely but left to burn.

The first call to support the firefight came at 5 p.m. on June 14. By 7 p.m., National Guard crews were in the air performing water bucket operations and dropping thousands of gallons on the Sockeye Fire, which affected nearly 8,000 acres and destroyed more than 50 homes.

Five days later, the regiment’s aircrews were transferred to the Kenai Peninsula where several spot fires had begun overnight. The area’s rough terrain meant they could get there before the ground crews to begin suppressing the fire and stop it from spreading.

“We are the initial attack for the Stetson Creek Fire,” Army National Guard Lt. Col. Robert Kurtz said in a NationalGuard.mil news article. “It will be up to our aircrews to determine where to drop water, and we are solely responsible out there at this point.”

Aircrews flew more than 200 bucket missions and dumped more than 144,000 gallons of water on that fire alone. All totaled between June 14 and July 2, according to the Army News Service, the 1-207th logged 132 flight hours and dropped 878,200 gallons of water during 1,103 bucket missions.

Alaska is no stranger to wildfires, but this summer’s number of fires burning simultaneously across such a vast area was unprecedented enough for Gov. Bill Walker to issue a State Disaster Declaration. And, according to a recent article in the Washington Post, the situation is on track toward surpassing 2004 as the worst wildfire season on record.

To the brave Soldiers of 1-207th, On Your Guard says “thank you and be safe.” If you aspire to protect your State’s citizens and land when natural disasters strike, consider making it happen through a part-time commitment in the Army National Guard. Search our jobs board for available opportunities and contact a recruiter today.

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