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Massachusetts National Guard names 2012 Best Warrior Competition winners 
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best warrior winners 
Sgt. 1st Class Vanessa Urban and Spc. Jason Branch, winners of the 2012 Best Warrior Competition, pose with their awards (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Matthew Camara, 65th Public Affairs Operations Center, Massachusetts Army National Guard).
By Army Spc. Matthew Camara, 65th Public Affairs Operations Center 

– The Massachusetts National Guard named the winners of the state’s Best Warrior Competition during an awards ceremony held here, April 15, 2012.

The best warrior competition, in its fourth year, is an annual contest held between the commands of the Massachusetts Army National Guard to find the best soldier and best noncommissioned officer of the year. Soldiers and noncommissioned officers are selected by their units and sent into the best warrior gauntlet where they face everything from marksmanship to obstacle courses to written exams.

In the end, Sgt. 1st Class Vanessa Urban of Joint-Force Headquarters and Spc. Jason Branch of the 189th Engineer Detachment were honored as the best NCO and Soldier of the year, edging out the six other competitors to take the prize.

“It’s a process for them to get here,” said Staff Sgt. Wendy Burke, noncommissioned officer in charge for Headquarters Camp Edwards and chief organizer for the competition. “They’re the best of the best.”

Burke said that with the caliber of competitors, the organizers have to up their game every year, incorporating new events or harder material into the challenges.

The competition began on Friday with a physical fitness test, written exam, marksmanship test and culminated in a night-fire exercise involving an urban combat scenario.

After sunset, competitors were dropped off via UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter at a mock village training site. Once there, they had to move through the village area, engage only hostile targets designated by their color, green for “friendly,” white for “hostile,” and move a dummy representing a wounded comrade back to the helicopter. The event was timed and graded.

“This year, we’ve taken it a step further,” Burke said. “Aviation was able to work with us for the weekend with the helicopter; we have all different types of stressors (during the event).”

The event ended well into the night, but there was little rest for the warriors as they were back out at 6 a.m. for Saturday’s obstacle course.

“The obstacle course was very challenging, we had very little sleep the night before” said Spc. Jason Branch, who represented the 189th Engineer Detachment. “It really tests the spirit.”

But their spirits aren’t the only things they can rely on. Each competitor is allowed to bring a sponsor, a mentor who helps prepare them before the contest and accompanies them to the events to provide encouragement and moral support.

Obstacle courses and night operations, however, test the body. Saturday afternoon tested the mind with competitors going in front of a board of Command Sergeants Major to face a grilling on everything from tactics to military history to the meaning of leadership.

Urban and Branch were crowned the winners, but with their victory came the anticipation and anxiety of their next challenge, the regional competition.

“It’s going to be a new challenge,” Urban said. “I’m just going to have to step up my game.”