By 1st Sgt. Vaughn R. Larson
112th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
Wisconsin Army National Guard Soldiers Sgt. Steven Dahl, of Oconto, Wis., and Sgt. Brandon Swanson, of St. Croix Falls, Wis., share the same unit - 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry - and the same long-term goal: to be command sergeant major for the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team.
They also share the same short-term goal - to win the National Guard Bureau's Best Warrior Competition, which concludes today (Aug. 8) at the Warrior Training Center in Fort Benning, Ga.
This is the third straight year that the Wisconsin Army National Guard has sent a competitor to the national Best Warrior contest, but the first year that it has sent two competitors. Dahl - who was a specialist with the Menomonee-based Company A when unit-level competition began last fall – is competing for Soldier of the Year honors, while Swanson, of Detachment 1, Headquarters Company in Chippewa Falls, is competing for Noncommissioned Officer of the Year. The National Guard Bureau's Soldier and NCO of the Year will advance to the Army-wide Best Warrior Competition at Fort Lee, Va., in October.
Brig. Gen. Mark Anderson, commander of the Wisconsin Army National Guard, and other senior leaders traveled to Fort Benning on Aug. 5 to encourage their Soldiers.
32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team Command Sgt. Maj. Rafael Conde, whose job Dahl and Swanson covet, said he expected they would do well at the competition. But to be safe, he said they arrived at Fort Benning a week early to acclimate to the hot and humid Georgia summer.
The competition began the evening of Aug. 4 with an essay and written exam. Friday began early with a physical fitness test, followed by weapon qualifications and something called "Warrior Stakes" - a series of tests on various Soldier skills such as clearing, disassembling and reassembling various crew-served weapons, as well as ensuring they function properly afterward. Other tasks tested in Warrior Stakes included medical, communication and protective actions for chemical, biological or nuclear environments.
Both Dahl and Swanson said the event was going well.
"It's not more difficult, but there are changes" from the regional Best Warrior competition, Dahl explained.
Staff Sgt. Matthew Ward, Dahl's sponsor, said that competitors were asked to train each other on some of the upcoming events, which is a change in the competitive mindset.
"When faced with changes, Soldiers adapt and overcome," Ward said.
Conde acknowledged that the competition level was very high and that Dahl and Swanson were competing against the best Soldiers and noncommissioned officers in the National Guard.
"At this level, the difference between number one and number seven is more mental than anything," Conde said. "They understand that this competition is a marathon, not a sprint."
State Command Sgt. Maj. George Stopper wished Dahl and Swanson success.
"We have total confidence in you," he said. "You just have to have confidence in yourselves."
Anderson said that Dahl and Swanson had already accomplished much.
"Whether you're first or not, you're in the top 14 in the entire National Guard," he said. "That's pretty good."
"We're really proud of you," added Col. Martin Seifer, commander of the 32nd Brigade.
The winners of the National Guard Best Warrior event will be announced on Friday (Aug. 12) in Washington, D.C.