By Sgt. 1st Class Erick Studenicka
Nevada Army Guard
Utah Army Guard Spc. Brenden Allen, 22, a student at Utah State University, and Arizona Army Guard Sgt. Kurt Van De Graaff, 27, a sergeant currently working on the Operation Guardian Shield border mission, emerged as the Soldier and Non-commissioned Officer winners of the Region 7 Best Warrior Competition that ended Thursday.
Allen, of the 211th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, and Van De Graaff, of the 363rd Explosive Ordnance Company, will now represent the region at the National Guard Best Warrior contest in July in Oklahoma. Region 7 includes the states of Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Hawaii, Utah, Colorado, California, and the territory of Guam. The Best Warrior Competition is best described as a decathlon-type military event that includes physical fitness challenges, Soldier skills testing, written exams and board interviews.
Allen and Van De Graff overcame both the top Soldiers in the region and a relentless mix of rain and snow during the three-day completion to claim their titles. The majority of the events were contested at the Hawthorne Army Depot in central Nevada, the world’s largest ammunition storage depot.
The home state’s Soldiers fared well and narrowly missed advancing as Nevada’s Sgt. Conor Czyzniejewski placed second in the NCO division and Spc. Tyler Davis placed third in the Soldier division. Arizona’s Spc. Ivan Tomitz was the runner-up in the Soldier category. The only Airman in the contest, Airman 1st Class Caleb Drake of the Utah Air Guard, finished tied for third with Davis in the Soldier division and won several individual events.
“All of the competitors were high-quality Soldiers,” said Master Sgt. Cameron Anderson of the Nevada Guard’s training and operations section. “There was not a lot of disparity separating the Soldiers in the field.”
Before the winners were announced during the awards ceremony in Nevada’s Capital City, Allen had tempered the expectations of his parents, Mark and Michelle Allen. They drove from Rocklin, Calif., to northern Nevada to see their son for the first time since Christmas.
“He led us to believe he didn’t do well,” Michelle Allen said.
But contrary to her son’s prognostication, Allen had done very well. He won three of the 13 events contested – the rifle qualification, grenade qualification and the 12-mile ruck march – to take the regional title in his first year of Best Warrior competition.
“I was very happy with my performance, it was the smoothest run through a series of Best Warrior events I’ve done,” said Allen, a junior at Utah St. located in Logan, Utah. “The Utah SARTs (small arms readiness and training) team prepared me well for the pistol and rifle qualifications. That helped me get off to a good start with a good first day.”
Allen said he was especially pleased with his dead lift and medicine ball scores during the Army Combat Fitness Test and the fact he found all of his day land navigation points in a short span of time. He said his only mistake was bringing just one pair of boots to the competition, which were completely soaked by the start of the ruck march. Despite the soggy shoes, he was among the leaders in the ruck march and finished in just over three hours.
It was also a smooth run for Van De Graaff of Gilbert, Ariz., who won four of the 13 events contested in the NCO division. He won the Army Combat Fitness Test, the pistol qualification, the Soldier Readiness Test and the night land navigation competition. Nevada’s Czyzniejewski won three events, including the ruck march by a wide margin, but he couldn’t overcome his slow start on the first day when he took fifth-place in the Army Combat Fitness Test and pistol and rifle qualifications.
Van De Graaff, a criminal intelligence analyst based in Coolidge, Ariz., said he worked out two times per day to prepare for the regional contest after winning the Arizona state title last month.
“I knew the competition was going to be tough – it’s only the best from each respective state,” Van De Graaff said. “These type of events are filled with the veteran infantrymen who are very strong in every event.”
Like Allen, Van De Graaff got off to a quick start on the first day of the contest by winning the Army Combat Fitness Test and the pistol qualification. He scored 555 points out of 600 on the fitness test and he also recorded 80 push-ups and 63 sit-ups in two minutes during the Soldier Readiness Test. His time for the two-mile run during the ACFT was 14 minutes, 6 seconds.
In Oklahoma, Allen and Van De Graaff will compete against the other National Guard regional winners for the National Guard’s spot in the All-Army Best Warrior Competition. The All-Army Best Warrior Competition is set for Virginia in early autumn.