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NEWS | Oct. 25, 2022

35th CSSB Soldiers battle it out, build camaraderie in unit’s ‘Best Warrior’ competition

By Noriko Kudo, U.S. Army Garrison - Japan

Four “Samurai” warriors, assigned to the 35th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion here, competed in the unit’s second annual “Best Warrior” competition Oct. 13 and 14 on Camp Zama and Sagami General Depot.

The competitors were previously selected as Soldiers and Noncommissioned Officers of the Quarter, and the competition was held to identify the top winners for the year. In the end, Pfc. Matthew Hicks won in the Soldier category, while Sgt. Nhien Nguyen won in the Noncommissioned Officer category.

“The winners of the competition become the face of the battalion for the year,” said Staff Sgt. Saony Lopez, the event coordinator.

Along with Hicks and Nguyen, Staff Sgt. Miguel Yap and Spc. Demarr Richmond competed in the two-day event, which consisted of an Army Combat Fitness Test, a medical/first aid event, a land navigation event, a weapons event, a ruck march, a packing list layout event, a weapons qualification event, and a formal board.

Lopez said that as NCO, she made sure to motivate the competitors to give 100 percent at each event, and that she was very proud of each of them for working hard and giving their maximum effort. She hopes the event stands out to the competitors as an unforgettable achievement, as well as a reminder to always stay ready in the Army.

Command Sgt. Maj. Paul Denson, the unit’s command sergeant major, said he made some adjustments to this year’s event to make it just like the Army’s Expert Soldier Budge qualification as a way to help build individual Soldier skills, resiliency and “instill in the competitors a ‘never quit’ attitude in tough situations.”

Denson said the 48-hour event was meant to test the competitors both physically and mentally, and bring both their strengths and weaknesses to light. The competitors appeared exhausted and frustrated at times, Denson said, but they never stopped trying.

“I am super proud of our Samurai warriors,” Denson said.

The command sergeant major said he was also very proud of the competitors’ sponsors and other NCOs who supported the event. They provided purpose, motivation and direction to the competitors throughout the event, he said, and having the presence of leaders from the unit there was a very significant contribution.

The Best Warrior competition definitely helped to build camaraderie among the competitors and within the battalion, which helped make the battalion better and stronger, Denson said.

“I hope this legacy will continue,” said Denson, who built the competition from scratch. “Our Soldiers deserve this type of event.”

Hicks, 20, the youngest competitor in the event, said simply that his goal was to win.

“What I gained from this experience is that I can really do anything that I put my mind to,” Hicks said. “Minds are a powerful tool, I figured out.”

The competition put him outside of his comfort zone and forced him to reach within and push himself to new limits, Hicks said.

“In the end, this will help me grow, and it also reminded me that I need to keep brushing up on my Soldier skills to be ready to defend the nation and its people.”

Hicks said it was his sponsor, Sgt. Jonathan Benavente, who largely contributed to him winning the event because the NCO was there to support him during the tough moments.

Benavente said he told Hicks during the competition that they were in it together, and that he kept motivating Hicks to stay focused and not give up.

“He did excellent throughout the whole event,” Benavente said. “He killed it.”

Benavente said he hopes Hicks passes the knowledge and experience he gained down to the fellow Soldiers in his unit, as well as others in the future.

Hicks agreed, saying that by participating in the Best Warrior competition, he also wanted to serve as an example to the other Soldiers in his unit.

“I know I have a higher calling to serve [and inspire] others,” Hicks said. “Being a Soldier is the perfect opportunity [to do that].”

Richmond, 23, said that before he entered the competition, his main goal was simply to get promoted. However, he said Denson inspired him to look beyond that and aim for something bigger. So Richmond worked toward being selected as Soldier of the Month, then the quarter, and finally competing to be the Best Warrior.

“The competition helped me gain a better understanding of myself,” Richmond said. “I realized some of the Soldiering skills that I need to work on, and I learned how to be more resilient. I’m going to take what I learned and build upon that foundation to get ready for the Expert Soldier Badge in the near future.”

Richmond said his sponsor, Sgt. Lenworth Lennon, assigned to the 311th Military Intelligence Battalion, helped him by being there to cheer him on and encouraging him to do his best.

Lennon, who works with Richmond in the same office, said he told the Soldier to focus on the tasks that were ahead of him and not worry about the other events until it was time to do them.

“[Richmond] pushed through as much as he could. I think he did great,” Lennon said. “[This competition] teaches you to endure the suck.”