Training. Weight lifting. Ruck marching. How one Virginia National Guard soldier overcomes challenges, becomes runner-up in Best Warrior Competition

Spc. Johnathan T. Koke tackles the obstacle course during the 2018 Virginia National Guard Best Warrior Competition Feb. 24, 2018, at Fort Pickett, Virginia. Koke, who is assigned to the Gate City-based 1032nd Transportation Company, 1030th Transportation Battalion, 329th Regional Support Group finished as the runner-up for this year’s competition. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. 1st Class Terra C. Gatti)

FORT PICKETT, Virginia – Spc. Johnathan T. Koke used the experience he gained during the 2016 Virginia National Guard Best Warrior Competition to better prepare for the 2018 event.

Koke is a member of the Gate City-based 1032nd Transportation Company, 1030th Transportation Battalion, 329th Regional Support Group and finished as the runner-up for this year’s Best Warrior Competition, a three-day event held in late February.

Koke trained for the 2018 Best Warrior Competition for two years. He is a wheeled-vehicle mechanic who resides in Tennessee but is a proud member of the Virginia National Guard. Koke focused his training on physical fitness, small arms skills, and basic Soldier knowledge.

“This was my second and final attempt to compete and place in the Best Warrior Competition for the Soldier category,” Koke said. “I knew that in order to perform well, I had to focus on strength and conditioning, road marching, and range skills.

“The Best Warrior Competition is meant to find the best soldier and noncommissioned officer in the Virginia National Guard,” said 1st Sgt. Charles D. Hall, 1032nd Transportation Company first sergeant. “Competitors face three days of mentally and physically demanding challenges in their abilities to shoot, move and communicate. The competition’s goal is to select the best warrior to serve as an example to others of what right looks like in the Virginia National Guard and showcase the caliber of Soldier the Commonwealth of Virginia has had in its ranks dating back to 1607.”

Koke enjoys physical fitness and especially enjoys powerlifting, strength conditioning, and swimming. When asked about running, Koke did not hesitate to share that running is not his favorite form of physical fitness and instead he focuses his efforts on lifting daily, swimming twice a week and road marching six to 12 miles with a full ruck sack at least once a month.

Koke studied his Soldier Handbook to learn the basic Soldier knowledge he knew would be tested throughout the Best Warrior Competition. In fact, Koke said the competition began with a written test that broadly evaluated his tactical knowledge. One of the final events included a board test in the Class A uniform that allowed senior noncommissioned officers to ask the interviewees questions on basic Soldier knowledge. Such verbal evaluation tests basic Soldier knowledge and also allows the evaluators to grade their overall appearance and military bearing.

Koke also spent time becoming familiar with small arms. Full schedules can often deter Soldiers getting to the range for extra training. Dry fire practice can be a better and inexpensive part of training and it can be done at a convenient location. Koke ensured his firearm was unloaded and would practice shooting focusing on the basics of steady position, trigger pull, breathing, and sight picture.

“Koke is a competitor by heart,” said Hall.  “He has the mental and physical fortitude to plan, train and execute for every event he faces in both military and civilian life. Throughout his military career, Koke has maintained the ‘Warrior’ mentality by always excelling in physical fitness, weapons proficiency and warrior tasks. His attitude to complete assigned missions while maintaining military bearing at all times personifies the highest standards of a well-rounded Soldier.”

Koke’s training paid off. Koke was prepared for the written exam, night land navigation, ruck marching, small arms skills that included marksmanship as well as assembling and disassembling, physical fitness test, obstacle course, hand grenades, and a board interview.

Koke will make a strong competitor for the Virginia Best Warrior Competition as a noncommissioned officer. He plans to continue sharpening his skills and intends to compete again when the time comes.

“Spc. Koke has proven himself as a Soldier his peers and subordinates can emulate,” said Command Sgt. Maj. E. Tim Miller, 329th Regional Support Group command sergeant major. “He has a driven sense of ability to perform at a standard of excellence. Koke took it upon himself to train in such a manner, not just to prepare for the competition, but as a Soldier, as a leader; a step closer rising within the noncommissioned officer corps. He is on the path of becoming a great leader that others can trust in the heat of the battle.”

Due to Koke’s achievement, he was selected to represent the 329th Regional Support Group as part of the larger 29th Infantry Division delegation traveling to France in June for the ceremonies commemorating the 74th anniversary of D-Day. attending the D-Day memorial services and reenactment in Normandy, France to commemorate the 74th anniversary. Koke is the second Soldier from the 1032nd Transportation Company to be selected to represent the brigade and travel to France for the D-Day services. Staff Sgt. Brandon Davis was selected to attend in 2016.