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Texas, international soldiers compete to be the best

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    Specialist Jacob Arndt crosses the finish line after the rucksack march. Photo by Julianne Hodges
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    Derek Guedes (left) and Greg Gaines (right) chat, relax and enjoy a snack after completing the rucksack march. Photo by Julianne Hodges

On a chilly, rainy Saturday morning in early March, a group of determined soldiers battled their way through a test of endurance in Lake Bastrop and its surrounding woods as the annual Best Warrior Competition neared its finale.

The Best Warrior Competition is a test of strength, ability and knowledge for members of the military; in Texas, Camp Swift has hosted the competition for the past seven years. It began on Wednesday, March 4 and ran through the rest of the week. In addition to including soldiers from the Air National Guard, Camp Swift’s army-centric competition also partners with Chile and the Czech Republic to bring them to Texas and compete. The components of the competition range from knowledge tests to shooting challenges to various physical obstacles.

“The Best Warrior Competition tests an array of different specific skill sets,” said Master Sergeant David Hall. “Everybody is strong in some things and weak in others.”

During the Saturday of the contest on March 7, the soldiers swam through Lake Bastrop, with intermittent light rain and temperatures around 60 degrees. Immediately after, they went on to a rucksack march, a test of endurance requiring them to hike for miles through a course around the lake while carrying a 35-pound bag. Although the soldiers can train for a rucksack march, they didn’t know the trails they would be travelling or the exact requirements of what they had to carry, said Chief Master Sergeant Michael Cornitius, command senior enlisted leader for the Texas Military Department.

“My favorite part this year is the swimming event, because it is new,” Cornitius said. “It is something that no one really prepared for or knew was coming.”

Later that afternoon, the soldiers competed in a “mystery event,” where they had no information about what kind of challenges they would face. Once they returned to Camp Swift, they faced challenges in a chemical warfare environment.

“The whole goal of this entire competition is to create readiness for our soldiers,” Cornitius said. “'Today, this is what I’m doing, tomorrow I might have to do this. What are my weaknesses? What are my strengths?'”

Jacob Arndt, a specialist from Fort Worth who has been in the National Guard for about three years, said the swimming portion was the hardest part.

“I did not expect the water to burn me out that badly, especially transitioning to the ruck march,” he said. “It didn’t look like it was going to be that far out, but by the time I’d gotten halfway to shore, I already felt completely exhausted and kind of losing it, so I had to really grip on to continue on with the mission.”

Outside of participating in the National Guard, Arndt is a shift lead manager at a restaurant and a personal trainer.

“I enjoy seeing people push their own boundaries, seeing people get a lot better,” he said. “I push myself pretty often.”

In the Saturday morning competition, Arndt finished in second place behind a soldier from the Chilean forces.

“This guy was a beast,” he said, “and that was my motivation, trying to catch him.”

Cornitius said, over the years, the event has become more competitive with the inclusion of the Air Guard and the Chilean and Czech competitors.

“They’ve raised the bar,” he said.

He added that bringing in a diverse group of soldiers from different forces gives the participants a chance to interact with and learn from others.

“That’s what it’s all about for us, to understand each other, be able to build that camaraderie and the ability to understand each other a little more and really work with them whenever we have to in a wartime environment,” Cornitius said. “We use this as a team building event.”