By Sgt. 1st Class Erick Studenicka
Nevada Army Guard
Although Mineral County is unlikely to ever host the Olympic Games, Hawthorne did serve as the site for the first Nevada National Guard international military contest held in conjunction with Nevada’s State Partnership Program. Four Tongan Marines competed alongside eight Nevada Army Guard Soldiers for the title of “Best Warrior” last week in a variety of events contested at the Hawthorne Army Depot and its Freedom Ranges.
The National Guard’s State Partnership Program teams a state’s National Guard with a country in an ongoing series of engagements that broach a wide spectrum of military, civilian, economic and social topics. Nevada and the Kingdom of Tonga established their partnership in 2014, but last week’s event marked the first time the Tonga armed forces participated in the Nevada Guard annual Best Warrior contest.
Nevada has a second partner in the program, the Republic of Fiji. Fiji sent two military observers to watch this year’s Best Warrior contest and is set to send participants to Nevada next year.
The Army’s Best Warrior contest has been contested since 2002 and could be described as a military decathlon featuring a wide variety of events, including tests of physical fitness, marksmanship and Army knowledge. All told during the three days of competition March 12-14, the 12 athletes were scored in 11 different disciplines. The winner of the Best Warrior contest is also declared the Nevada Army Guard’s Soldier of the Year.
In the end, a former U.S. Marine-turned-Nevada Army Guard cavalry Soldier, Spc. Tyler Davis, 29, of Las Vegas, emerged as the Best Warrior just ahead of second-place Pvt. Sione Lonitenisi of the Tongan Marines.
Davis admitted the Tongans, who performed exceptionally well despite being unaccustomed to Hawthorne’s elevation and winter temperatures, put a lot of stress on the home-state Soldiers.
“Absolutely I felt the pressure,” said Davis, a motor transport operator in D Co., 1-221st Cavalry based in Las Vegas. “They are very-well rounded Marines. We realized they were winning many of the events.”
Maj. Tomaakino Tu’itavuki, the Tongan officer accompanying the Marines, said the performance by his South Pacific contingent left him pleasantly surprised. The other Tongans who competed were Pvt. Saevii Tonga, Pvt. Sione Atoa and Pvt. Dimitirous Polisima.
“I was expecting we would take the last four places,” Tu’itavuki said. “We have never trained in this type of weather or ever experienced this elevation. But our team has remained flexible and battled through three days of competition.”
Nevada Guard officials said Hawthorne was chosen as the location for the contest because it is one of the few sites in Nevada with all of the requisite venues for a Best Warrior contest, including marksmanship ranges and land navigation courses.
Lt. Col. Randy Lau, the director of the Nevada Guard’s State Partnership Program, said the multi-day competition achieved its goals on multiple levels.
“The contest was successful because it allowed partners to share military best practices, become familiar with new military techniques and assess what we should do in the future,” Lau said. “The overarching success, though, was the fact we continued to build and foster a strong relationship with our partner countries.”
Davis and the first-place finisher in the Non-commissioned Officer of the Year category, Sgt. Conor Czyzniejewski, 23, of the 422nd Expeditionary Signal Battalion, now advance to represent the Nevada Guard in the Region VII Best Warrior contest. That event will also take place in Hawthorne in mid-May and include the top Soldiers from eight western states and territories. Lonitenisi will also be invited to represent Tonga.