The soldier warily patrolled his area, head on a swivel and eyes searching the rough terrain of West Fort Hood. Suddenly, an explosion ripped through the early morning air Tuesday, followed by the screams of a wounded soldier.

Staff Sgt. Dustin Nixson rushed through the brush to find the wounded soldier, assessing his injuries and quickly moving him to safety where he could conduct a full assessment and treatment. Talking his way through what needed to be done to locate and patch up the injuries as explosions continued to rip through the air, the noncommissioned officer from 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division then called in a medical evacuation for the injured soldier.

Such was the scenario for only one of the many tasks soldiers from across III Corps faced to earn the title of “Best Warrior” in the competition to identify the best noncommissioned officer and best soldier within the corps. The four-day competition, which ends Thursday, put troopers from five different military installations against one another through a series of tasks including land navigation, casualty assessment, physical fitness tests and even a 12-mile march with full gear.

III Corps units are spread through Fort Hood and Fort Bliss in Texas; Fort Sill, Oklahoma; Fort Riley, Kansas and Fort Carson, Colorado.

“I’ve gone through a brigade competition, a division competition and now this,” Nixson said. “(To prepare) a lot of it is warrior tasks and skills and physical fitness. It’s challenging physically, then switching gears and going into things that are more mental in between, so switching back and forth has been a challenge as well.”

The two winners of the III Corps challenge, one noncommissioned officer and one soldier in the rank of specialist or below, will move on to compete in the U.S. Forces Command Best Warrior competition, and could potentially compete against the best the Army has to offer in the Army-wide competition, the Plano, Texas native said. For soldiers who want to compete in future competitions, getting physically fit is the best place to start.

“Also attending NCO of the Month and Soldier of the Month boards that all units hold is good, too, because it gets you ready for the board part of the competition,” Nixson said. “The boards are of high emphasis.”

For Sgt. Joshua Weide, working his way up by winning the 4th Infantry Division and Fort Carson competition to compete at the corps level was difficult but satisfying.

“All the competition is tough — they all made it here for a reason,” the 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th ID soldier said. “Everybody is capable of winning this. This shows you where you stack up against your peers — not just at the battalion or brigade level, but potentially against peers from across the Army. I always want to know how I rank against my fellow NCOs.”

One of the most important things a competition such as Best Warrior can do for soldiers is show them what areas they really need to improve on to better train their troops at their home units, said Sgt. Ike Horn, a soldier from 97th Military Police Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, at Fort Riley.

“I need to remember those things and practice them much more, because I feel like a lot of those drills make our soldiers more agile,” he said. “One of the main reasons I agreed to go to these (competitions) is to challenge myself, better myself as a leader and go back and show my soldiers those things ... that you can easily overcome those small obstacles.”

Each of the events was designed to fully test the competitors knowledge and ability to handle themselves well under pressure, said Staff Sgt. Stephen Johnson, the senior evaluator who designed the combat first aid portion of the competition.

“I’ve been really impressed — we try to keep this as life-like as possible,” said Johnson, a medic with Company A, 21st Combat Support Hospital. “We’ll give them ‘casualties’ with injuries most likely to be seen in combat. Extremity wounds, wounds to the chest ... and maintaining the casualties heat, regardless of the temperature outside, to keep the casualty from going into shock.”

The evaluators also keep up the stress by continuing to throw in random explosions to keep the competitors on their feet, he said.

“When their heart rate goes up, their blood level spikes, that’s when they start to forget things,” Johnson said. “That’s when motor memory starts to kick in. We add that stress and watch the soldier perform. Without that stress, it may as well be a class room. In a combat environment, they’re going to have those stressors and if they haven’t trained for it, they won’t be able to perform.”

The Best Warrior soldier and Best Warrior NCO will be announced at a banquet Thursday night at Bella Serra Italian Restaurant in Copperas Cove.

dbryant@kdhnews.com | 254-501-7554

dbryant@kdhnews.com | 254-501-7554

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