By Dawn M. Aerts
Iron County Today
CEDAR CITY–It’s a Spartan-type race that includes day and night land navigation, a 12-mile-ruck march at 7,000 feet elevation, treading water in boots, and finishing a grueling competition where the ‘Best Warrior’ on an imaginary battlefield not only survives, but wins the ordeal.
For Guardsman Eric Armijo, the competition replicates a series of real-world scenarios that can be mentally and physically tough while forcing the soldier to master the event under extreme pressure. “That’s all that matters in the process,” said Armijo. “When people around you are injured or endangered, what we do matters.” Armijo’s parents, Joe and Jill Armijo, live in Cedar City.
Armijo is one of hundreds of soldiers who have competed in past years for the coveted Region VII Best Warrior Competition that begins at each unit with individual soldiers from each state competing in the Battalion and then, Brigade Levels. From there, one Utah National Guardsmen or Non-Commissioned Officer moves on to compete at the state title.
“These soldiers are tested mentally, physically and emotionally,” said Michael Miller, former State Sergeant Major (retired) who has worked with the “Best Warrior” Competition in previous years. “They are evaluated in everything from board interviews, written exam and ruck march, to practical skills in land navigation, combat leadership, and weapons criteria.”
In Utah, the eight winners at Brigade level competed for the National Guard Best Warrior title held at Camp Williams. But it was then Specialist Armijo, a medic with the 65th Field Artillery Brigade, went on to earn himself a top spot at the Region VII Best Warrior Competition held in Raton, New Mexico, in May.
During that four-day competition, 15 warriors from eight states were tested in a battery of mental and physical matches. According to Public Affairs Officer Maj D.J. Gibbs, Armijo battled competitors representing (lower) West Coast National Guard States of Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, California, Hawaii and the island of Guam.
Armijo, a graduate of Canyon View High School joined the Utah National Guard in 2012, and completed Basic Training at Ft. Benning, Georgia and Advanced Occupational Skills training at Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, Texas, before serving in his role as field medic and working for the Ski Patrol in Park City.
“I was encouraged to enter this,” said Armijo, “Unfortunately, I only had one day to prepare for the first competition and didn’t know much about what it could eventually entail.” Armijo describes himself as a super-competitive person that has found his niche in the military. “I (basically) love to win, so once I got into this, I looked at it as a great opportunity and something I would totally commit to.”
Over the past six months, Armijo has given hundreds of hours to ‘brushing up’ on basic soldier skills, advanced physical fitness training, and refreshing himself on combat readiness and his ability to shoot, navigate, problem solve and survive challenging and exhausting combat-warrior conditions.
“During the four days at Region, you don’t get much sleep or time to eat, so the event tests you in every possible way it can. It is really the ‘little brother’ event comparable to training with the Green Beret or combat-rescue operations – and I love this stuff.”
Armijo will next compete against soldiers from across the country at the All-National Guard competition set for July 22 through July 28 in Fort Indian Town Gap, Pennsylvania. Should the recently promoted Sergeant Armijo win this event, he will represent the Army National Guard in the U.S. Army’s worldwide Best Warrior Competition set for Fall 2018.
“The hardest thing is that these are complicated tasks for four long days and there’s a lot of pressure to perform and to do them well.” Armijo who was known for his swimming prowess and endurance in high school-level-events, said his future goal is to re-enlist in special operations or for rescue missions.
According to Gibbs, soldiers must complete tasks that are relevant in today’s battlefield, testing aptitude and proficiency in urban-warfare conditions. “The event consists of four, 20-hour days, that include survival-water training, a Spartan-type race, the use of DAGR’s, water tasks, medical, weapons, written and board tests.”
Armijo, who joined the Utah National Guard in high school, said he is not disappointed in opportunities to train and excel. “I tell people who ask…that the overall experience is what you make of it. You have the chance to be a great soldier once-a-month and you can write your own destiny.”
While the details of events are undisclosed, soldiers must master problem-solving, and be able to think and react quickly under pressure. Armijo’s strategy is to work through each event as it appears. “You can’t over think it, so you take a step back and use the tools you’ve been given in training — to make the right choice.”
Photo Caption: Utah National Guardsmen, Sgt. Eric Armijo, a graduate of Canyon View High School, Cedar City, and member of the 65th Field Artillery Brigade, has won “Best Warrior” competitions at the Battalion, Brigade and at the Regional Competition held in Raton, New Mexico this past May in a match-up against guardsmen from 7 West Coast States and territories.