COPPERAS COVE — Each year, III Corps hosts the Best Warrior competition from posts under the corps command structure: Fort Carson, Colorado; Fort Riley, Kansas; Fort Sill, Oklahoma; and Fort Bliss and Fort Hood in Texas. The 2018 winners were announced on Thursday during a ceremony held at Bella Sera Italian Restaurant in Copperas Cove.

Attending the packed dining room were competitors, coaches and coordinators of the event. In addition, Task Force Phantom Command Sgt. Maj. Maurice Jackson, retired Command Sgt. Maj. Merle Jones and retired 1st Sgt. Fernando Fernandez acted as master of ceremony and judges respectively.

The competition, which concluded Thursday with a 12-mile ruck march, an armed forces physical fitness test (APFT), a land navigation test and a stress fire test — included five noncommissioned officers and five soldiers.

Upon announcing the winners, Jackson would exclaim, “We have the best here today” before recounting the rigors of the day’s activities. “The soldiers did an outstanding job and the winners here will represent us at the FORSCOM (United States Forces Command) portion of the competition.”

The FORSCOM competition includes competitors from other corps structures.

The winners of III Corps’ Best Warriors Competition for 2018: Staff Sgt. Dustin Nixson, selected as the best noncommissioned officer (NCO), and Spc. Zachary Cockrill taking the honors as the best soldier for those ranked specialist (E-4) and below.

“The important thing about this experience to me was the camaraderie, learning from the other competitors, and identifying areas that needed improvement,” said Nixson, 29, an infantryman of the 3rd Squadron, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, stationed at Fort Hood. “I actually feel humbled by the experience.”

Nixson also voiced his deep respect for the other competitors and that each soldier benefits from engaging in the competition.

Cockrill, 21, a military policeman of HHD 97th Military Police Battalion, 89th Military Police Brigade, stationed at Fort Riley, said, “I learned not to quit, since I thought I wouldn’t finish due to an injury I sustained during the 12-mile march … so, I kept trying.”

Cockrill battled through chin-splints during the competition and it effected his performance during the ruck march portion of the event. Yet Cockrill did well enough in other areas to be recognized as 2018’s Best Soldier.

“Doing things like this is how you become command sergeant major,” Jones, a member of the Military Police Hall of Fame and judge for the competition, said of the participants.

Many of the competitors would echo the opinion of the winners and the judging regarding the rigors and opportunities of the event.

“Even if I didn’t win, it was a great experience,” Sgt. Makayla Highler, 19, a multiple launch rocket system crew member, of the 2nd Battalion, 18th Field Artillery, stationed at Fort Sill, stated. “I think what I experienced here gives me the credibility to lead by example.”

Each winner was awarded an Army Commendation Medal (ARCOM), a 45-pound ruck of military gear, and a statue of Frank Franzetta’s iconic “Death Dealer” — an image closely associated with III Corps since its selection by Gen. Crosbie Saint to represent the corps in 1986.

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