Three countries compete for the title of best warrior at Camp Swift

Photo By Senior Airman DeJon Williams | Air Force Staff Sgt. Juan Nunez, a security forces specialist with the 136th Security Forces Squadron, Texas Air National Guard, Fort Worth, Texas, plots points on his map during the land navigation event during the 2017 Texas Military Department Best Warrior Competition, March 2, 2017 at Camp Swift, near Bastrop, Texas. Land navigation tests the competitors ability to read maps, use a compass and other skills to traverse through unfamiliar terrain to different points throughout the course. (Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman De'Jon Williams)
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BASTROP, Texas — Soldiers and Airmen from three nations gathered at Camp Swift, Texas last weekend for a three-day competition that tested each soldier's skill, strength and endurance, March 3, 2017. 
In the Texas Military Department's fifth annual Best Warrior Competition, members of the Texas Army National Guard, Texas Air National Guard and invitees from the Chilean and the Czech Republic militaries, squared off against each other for the title of Best Warrior.
27 Best Warrior candidates competed in one of two categories: Best Junior Enlisted and Best Noncommissioned Officer. Service members were rated in nine events, including a 12-mile road march and an obstacle course, that closely imitate real combat situations. Two additional events gauged the soldiers' military writing and their professional appearance.
Integrating three countries into one competition presented challenges for event organizers, but command senior enlisted leader, Command Sgt. Maj. Mark Weedon, said that every effort is made to offer a fair playing field for competitors from every contingent.
It took an almost year-long effort to bring the three nations together, but Weedon says the effort pays off because it offers more than just an opportunity for Soldiers to compete for the title; the real training value comes from learning to work with other nations in real-world operations.
"It gives them and us confidence that we've got partners around the world, so that if anything went bad in any of our countries, we've got some help we are accustomed to," Weedon said.
Both Texas components participating in the competition were comprised of citizen Soldiers and reflect the readiness of members of the Texas Military Department to don their uniforms and operate at the level necessary for high-tempo operations.
Sgt. Juan PonceDeleon with the Texas Army National Guard’s 112th Cavalry Regiment, 72 Infantry Brigade Combat Team, described his preparation for Best Warrior after winning his unit’s internal competition.
"The first thing I did was talk to people that have competed in the event before so that I could learn from them," PonceDeleon said. "After that, I had to make an honest assessment of where I was at with my warrior tasks and drills."
Competitors first participated in unit-level selections to earn their spot in the statewide competition. Chilean soldier Cpl. Camilo Leal says his unit’s competition helped prepare him for the weekend.
The Texas Military Department was the first state to open its Best Warrior Competition to all components—including the Texas Air National Guard and international partners — in 2013. Now, other states like Nebraska, hope to follow in Texas' footsteps by welcoming foreign militaries into their Best Warrior competitions. 
This year marked Chile's second appearance in Texas’ Best Warrior competition but was the Czech Republic’s first year to attend.
Although, the winner won't be officially announced until April 7, Leal said that no matter who wins, the friendships and comradery the competition fostered will endure.
"It's been a very wonderful experience. I have had a chance to talk to the other soldiers and hope to keep that communication going," Leal said. "If they come to Chile, I will welcome them with the same hospitality they have shown me."