Virginia Soldier, NCO compete in Region II Best Warrior

Staff Sgt. Eddie Jones and Spc. Braxton Todd, Virginia National Guard Soldiers assigned to the Fort Belvoir-based Headquarters Battalion, 29th Infantry Division, compete in the 2020 Region II Best Warrior Competition, July 28, 2020, at H Steven Blum Military Reservation in Glen Arm, Maryland. Jones and Todd are competing against Soldiers and noncommissioned officers from Maryland, Pennsylvania and Delaware during the four-day competition for the right to move on to the national-level competition. (U.S. National Guard photo by A.J. Coyne)

BALTIMORE, Maryland — Spc. Braxton Todd and Staff Sgt. Eddie Jones, both assigned to the Fort Belvoir-based 29th Infantry Division, competed against representatives from Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania at the 2020 Region II Best Warrior Competition July 28-31 in Maryland. The physical and mentally grueling competition, which took place at several locations throughout the state, included the Army Combat Fitness Test, weapons qualification, stress shooting, a 12-mile ruck march, a water survival test, a board appearance and more.

Spc. Braxton Todd, a Virginia National Guard Soldier assigned to the Fort Belvoir-based Headquarters Battalion, 29th Infantry Division, participates in high-intensity interval training during Day 2 of the 2020 Region II Best Warrior Competition, July 29, 2020, at Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland. (U.S. National Guard photo by A.J. Coyne)

“The Regional Best Warrior was tough. It was a mix of mental and physical difficulty,” said Todd, a Chemical, Biological Radiological and Nuclear Specialist. “I was excellent in some events, and I got smacked in a few events. I would say that Maryland, as the competition host, did a terrific job of keeping all of us Soldiers on our toes. We were often kept guessing in the mental game and left out of breath in the physical tests.”

Todd won the Virginia Best Warrior Competition at the Soldier level representing the 229th Chemical Company, 329th Regional Support Group. He has since transferred to Headquarters Battalion, 29th Infantry Division.

Jones agreed that the Regional Best Warrior event was both mentally and physically draining. An Air Defense Battle Management System Operator, who works in the civilian world as an IT systems engineer specializing in cybersecurity, Jones was the runner up NCO in the Virginia Best Warrior competition and had only a week to prepare for the regional event after the winner was unable to attend.

Staff Sgt. Eddie Jones, a Virginia National Guard Soldier assigned to the Fort Belvoir-based Headquarters Battalion, 29th Infantry Division, reacts to indirect fire during the Army Warrior Task portion of Day 1 of the Region II Best Warrior Competition, July 28, 2020, at H Steven Blum Military Reservation in Glen Arm, Maryland. (U.S. National Guard photo by A.J. Coyne)

“The physical aspects were definitely challenging, especially since I only had a week to prepare,” he said. “But the mental aspect was rough as well. History was never an academic focus of mine, so constantly having technical history questions thrown at me was difficult to deal with.

“They should include more math and science next time,” he joked.

“Due to COVID-19, we were forced to postpone our state-level competition from March to July,” explained Command Sgt. Maj. Ronald Smith, the Virginia Army National Guard Command Sergeant Major. “So our Soldier and NCO only had two weeks between our state competition and the regional competition. Spc. Todd, Staff Sgt. Jones and their sponsors did nothing short of a phenomenal job representing our state.”

On the first day of the competition the Soldiers tackled an obstacle course, conducted a stress shoot event and endured Army Warrior tasks.

At the stress shoot, competitors were required to conduct several exercises from the Army Combat Fitness Test and then fire both the rifle and the pistol.

The Warrior Task Lanes included reacting to enemy contact, reacting under chemical attack, evaluating a casualty and more.

But the obstacle course was the day one event that got to Jones the most.

“The toughest event was definitely the obstacle course,” he said. “That was a butt-kicker.”

The morning of Day 2 focused on weapons. The competitors qualified on the M4 rifle and M17 pistol, disassembled and reassembled an MK 19 grenade launcher and conducted vehicle crew engagement in a Humvee with an M240B and radio.

“Many of the weapon systems that I was able to use are not usually involved in my soldiering duties, and it was very enjoyable to learn a bit more about them as well as better my marksmanship,” Todd said.

Spc. Braxton Todd, a Virginia National Guard Soldier assigned to the Fort Belvoir-based Headquarters Battalion, 29th Infantry Division, completes the water combat survival test during Day 3 of the Region II Best Warrior Competition, July 30, 2020, at Edgewood Area Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. (U.S. National Guard photo by A.J. Coyne)

That afternoon all the competitors traveled to Fort McHenry in Baltimore where they took a tour of the national monument before they endured high intensity interval training around the grounds of the park.

The fourth day of the competition actually began in the middle of the night. First the Soldiers conducted a land navigation course until the daylight hours and then they completed a 12-mile ruck march around Antietam National Battlefield.

“The ruck march around Antietam Battlefield was the Everest of the competition,” Todd said. “I don’t think any one of the competitors walked away from that event without having suffered significantly. However, at the end of it, we knew that every following event would be in downhill stride.”

In the afternoon the competition continued with a combat water survival event. Competitors had to leap in and discard their tactical gear, tread water for five minutes, and swim a specified distance.

After the water event, the Soldiers faced their surprise event- a quiz on Fort McHenry.

On the final day of the competition the Soldiers each appeared before a board of senior enlisted Soldiers who judged their appearance, military bearing and military knowledge.

Staff Sgt. Eddie Jones, a Virginia National Guard Soldier assigned to the Fort Belvoir-based Headquarters Battalion, 29th Infantry Division, clears, assembles, disassembles and performs a function check on an MK 19 grenade launcher during Day 2 of the Region II Best Warrior Competition, July 29, 2020, at H Steven Blum Military Reservation in Glen Arm, Maryland. (U.S. National Guard photo by A.J. Coyne)

Although the Virginia representatives didn’t bring home top honors, they both left Maryland with greater knowledge of their own abilities as well as a collection of new battle buddies.  

“There was definitely a lot of camaraderie,” Jones said “Not at first, but everyone started coming around Tuesday night/Wednesday morning. It made the experience much more motivating.”

“There was definitely an air of competition between states, but, at the end of the day, it was very apparent that we were all on the same team,” Todd added. “I am very thankful to have met and made friends with the other competitors.”

Now that the competition is behind them, both Todd and Jones have new missions to tackle.

Todd, who graduated from Liberty University in the spring, recently began law school there.

Jones, who is currently on orders at National Guard Bureau, is slated to attend Officer Candidate School in the winter.

At the end of the competition they both offered up advice to Soldiers and NCOs looking to compete in next year’s event.

“I think I still have the same bit of advice that I had on Day Zero- Never give up, even when everything hurts and you feel you’re not doing your best,” Jones said.

“Overall, I think the BWC was a great way of identifying my weaknesses, so I know what to train for in the future,” Todd said. “I would also like to say to all of the Soldiers in the Virginia Army National Guard that they should absolutely try to get involved with the BWC. You get to experience the fun parts of the Army during the competition and it is an event that will stick with you for the rest of your life.”