Sgt. Johnny Peralta, Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 102nd Infantry, runs across the finish line of the 10K ruck march with his mentor, Staff Sgt. Brian Shattuck.
(Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Debbi Newton, 130th Public Affairs Detachment)
Soldiers from across the state have gathered at Camp Niantic, Niantic, Conn. to compete in the annual Best Warrior competition held March 27-30. Select Soldiers and non-commissioned officers (NCO) from units throughout Connecticut came to test themselves during an intense weekend full of challenges designed to push the competitors to their limits both mentally as well as physically.
The Soldiers began their weekend on Thursday evening with a showdown inspection to ensure they had everything on their packing list, a weigh-in and recitation of the Soldier’s Creed or the Creed of the NCO.
Day two began with a physical fitness test before the competitors were bused to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn. where they were tested in the pool.
“This is the first time we have been thrown into the pool,” said Sgt. Johnny Peralta, Best Warrior competitor, Headquarters Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 102nd Infantry. “The pool was pretty tough, probably the toughest thing I’ve done in any of the local competitions.”
The water survival event tested the Soldiers in three different events. The Soldiers had to swim the length of the pool in boots and uniform while keeping a rubber rifle held above the water. Then they had to jump in the water wearing a load bearing vest and carrying a rubber rifle, take off the vest and drop the rifle before swimming to the surface. The last event was a jump off the 10-meter board blindfolded.
“The pool was pretty scary,” said Pfc. Jocelyn Mahoney-Balestracci, 248th Engineer Company. “Most of the other events we are familiar with, but this one is something new.”
After the water survival event, the Soldiers were taken to the rifle range in East Haven to test their marksmanship and their warrior tasks.
“Once we got to the range we were split up,” said Staff Sgt. Brian Shattuck, a mentor from Headquarters Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 102nd Infantry. “The Soldiers went to the range, while the NCO competitors started with warrior tasks.”
All the competitors had to complete five warrior tasks, shoot the individual weapon qualification and complete a stress shoot.
“After such a long day that stress shoot really beat me up,” said Staff Sgt. Alyssa Pendleton, BWC competitor, 1109th Theater Aviation Support Maintenance Group.
The third day began with a 6.4 mile Ruck March around Stones Ranch Military Reservation, with a 35-pound rucksack.
“The ruck course is pretty tough,” said Staff Sgt. Alyssa Pendleton, competitor, 1109th Theater Aviation Support Maintenance Group. “There are a lot of hills here, and some of them are pretty steep.”
This year’s ruck march was a record breaker, with the first three competitors finishing quicker than the previous best time, and the first female competitor to make it to the end did so faster than any previous female.
“To have the four people finish faster than ever before is incredible,” say Sgt. Maj. Cindy Trantor, G3 . “And to have (Sgt. Johnny Peralta) finish in under an hour to break the record he set last year, that’s just unimaginable.”
After the grueling march pushed their bodies, the competitors sat down and took a written test designed to push their minds, then right back into the field.
“They need to get a little break,” said Trantor. “Then we get them right back out there for the day land (navigation) course.”
The competitors each had three hours to plot and locate four points for the day course, and then they get to come back and do it again in the dark.
“Land (navigation) is always a good way to test a Soldier’s skills,” said Sgt. Michael Riley, competitor, C Company, 1st Battalion, 102nd Infantry. “I’m not too worried about the day course, but the night one might be a challenge.”
The final day saw the appearance boards as the final event, after which the winners were announced.
Sgt. Johnny Peralta, Headquarters Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 102nd Infantry was named NCO of the Year for the second consecutive year and Spc. Stephanie Landry, 143rd Military Police Company came out on top as the Soldier of the Year. Both now go on to the regional Beast Warrior Competition in May where they will represent Connecticut against seven other states at Camp Ethan Allen, Vermont.