Minnesota, Canada, Croatia compete at state Best Warrior Competition

Select Minnesota National Guard Soldiers, along with volunteers from the Croatian and Canadian Armed Forces competed to find this year’s best Noncommissioned Officer and Soldier during Minnesota’s 2023 Best Warrior Competition held on Camp Ripley March 29 – April 1, 2023. Bolstering the Minnesota National Guard’s 27-year relationship with Croatia through the U.S. Department of Defense’s State Partnership Program and maintaining the long-standing relationship with Canada, competitors from both organizations participated in this annual challenge.

“The continued coordination with partners like Croatia and Canada is rewarding for our soldiers and leaders alike,” said Army 1st Sgt. Jack Esget, the competition’s noncommissioned officer in charge.

The competition is a four-day event that tests competitors on their knowledge of Soldier skills. The competition includes an appearance board, written exams, essays, a physical fitness event, weapons qualifications, medical evacuation tasks, an obstacle course, a live fire exercise, and a ruck march. In addition, this year’s competition featured the “Valor Ruck,” which includes five stations, each highlighting the story of a Medal of Honor recipient.

“Camp Ripley is a world-class training site, and we are excited to host not only Minnesota’s best noncommissioned officers and Soldiers, but also seven competitors from Croatia and Canada,” said Army Command Sgt. Maj. Rian Hofstad, Camp Ripley’s garrison command sergeant major.

Of the 20 Minnesota National Guard, four Croatian, and three Canadian Soldiers that competed, only one Minnesota noncommissioned officer and one Minnesota Soldier will advance to compete at the next level, the National Guard’s Region IV Best Warrior Competition, hosted by the Ohio National Guard in May. Special recognition and pride go with the international allies as they place throughout the event.

Day one of the competition started with the Soldiers taking on the vehicle preventive maintenance checks and services, and tire changing event followed by a live fire exercise. Next, the noncommissioned officers split and took on the valor ruck march around Camp Ripley’s cantonment area and a variety of lanes that tested their knowledge of Army tasks and drills.

“I hope this competition is a career-developing experience for all our competitors and that this opportunity continues to foster our long-lasting international partnerships,” added Esget.

The second day of the competition brought cold and icy winter conditions, creating challenges for the 27 competitors. The noncommissioned officers faced new events, such as a treating a casualty at Camp Ripley’s state-of-the-art Medical Simulation Training Center, the vehicle maintenance event, and the live fire exercises. The Soldiers took on the challenge of the valor ruck, even with an ice sheet covering Camp Ripley.

The competitors also competed in low-light land navigation with snowshoes, combating the deep snowpack of north central Minnesota.

The 2023 Minnesota Best Warrior winner in the Soldier of the Year category was Spc. Gabriel Senf, an infantryman with the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 135th Infantry Regiment. The winner of the noncommissioned officer of the year category was Army Staff Sgt. Leo Kerfeld, an infantryman with the Charlie Company, 2nd Battalion, 135th Infantry Regiment. Both winners will compete against the best Soldiers and noncommissioned officers from multiple states at the Region IV Best Warrior Competition hosted by the Ohio National Guard in May.

Capt. William Hermanson

Minnesota National Guard Public Affairs