BALTIMORE — For the first time in Maryland National Guard history, one Maryland soldier moved through the tiers of the Best Warrior Competition all the way to the national level, the 2019 U.S. Army Best Warrior Competition.
Not only did this soldier progress through the battalion, brigade, MDNG and regional competitions to make it to the Army BWC, he was a close runner-up for first place, something never accomplished by any Maryland National Guard soldier before. He missed taking first place by fewer than 10 points.
This trailblazing National Guard soldier is Spc. Hunter Olson of Easton.
Hailing from the 1st Battalion, 175th Infantry Regiment, Olson faced competition that was stacked with the best soldiers and noncommissioned officers from 11 different commands. His resiliency, dedicatio, and mental fortitude drove him to place first overall in the ruck march, winning him the “Point Man Award.”
“There are plenty of capable soldiers out there who can do this,” Olson said. “But being able to represent the MDNG for the first time (on a national stage) was really awesome.”
While every year the Army National Guard and Army Reserve components are represented in the Army Best Warrior Competition, this was a pivotal moment to highlight exactly what the National Guard, specifically the MDNG, is capable of when competing against active duty Army.
“Making it to second place with less than a 10 point differential not only sets Maryland apart, it sets the National Guard apart as a whole,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Perlisa Wilson, Maryland National Guard senior enlisted leader. “This is not a full-time soldier. This is a traditional guardsman who trained just as hard as an active duty soldier, and went out there and won over some active soldiers. It lets everyone know that soldiers of the National Guard are of the same caliber (as any soldier of the United States Army).”
During the six-day competition, 11 soldiers and 11 NCOs were tested on their knowledge, skills and abilities through demonstrations of critical thinking, navigating urban warfare situations, formal board interviews, physical fitness challenges, written exams and more.
Unlike the previous levels he competed at, Olson said, the Army BWC seemed more mission orientated rather than focused on a task. Competitors immersed themselves in a scenario staged at Fort A.P. Hill, Va., where the base served as the fictional country of West Corona. Soldiers were tasked with the objective of defending West Corona from the invading forces of East Corona, another fictional, neighboring country.
The days started well before daylight as competitors were faced with simulated missions involving battlefield surveillance, engagement with enemy forces, on-camera interviews with news journalists and more. Throughout the challenge, actors were placed strategically to distract competitors from the mission objective, adding realism and difficulty to the events.
“It was really great training,” Olson said. “In a real mission setting, you’re going to be rushed, and it’s important to react well but really quickly.”
The elements and scenarios of the competition were designed to portray real scenarios soldiers may encounter in actual operations. The biggest component of this realistic portrayal was the consistent element of the unknown.
“From the very beginning, you didn’t know what was going on or what to expect,” Olson said. “This competition was different than any other competition. The unknown was nerve-racking. It wasn’t the most physically demanding competition, but it had the most unknowns.”
While Olson had plenty of experience competing in previous Best Warrior Competitions, training for this event was an entirely different process.
“There’s no way to train for the unknown, other than to expose yourself to as many situations as possible so you know how your mind will react,” Olson said. “If you physically train hard, then the physical part will come more easily and you can focus on the mental part.”
To mentally prepare, Olson dedicated a lot of time to studying areas such as Army history and current political topics in preparation for the knowledge-based tasks he would encounter.
However, much like many other traditional National Guard soldiers, Olson wears more hats than just his Army patrol cap. Among those roles, Olson is a college student. Midway through his training for the 2019 Army Best Warrior Competition, Olson was in his final semester of college and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology.
“I was juggling studying for brigade boards with studying things like chemistry,” Olson said. “To be successful in this competition, you need to be very well-rounded. It’s more than just a physical challenge.”
Having a well-rounded assortment of abilities and knowledge allowed Olson to prepare more thoroughly for the varying challenges presented during each step in the competition and his leadership took notice through the entire process.
“We are so proud of him,” Wilson said. “Not many command sergeant majors can say that they had a solider go all the way through to the Army competition and actually place.”
Now that the Army Best Warrior Competition is complete, Olson plans to continue pursuing his education to become a physician’s assistant. He also plans to further his military career by attending Ranger School and Basic Leadership Course to join the ranks of the Army’s NCO Corps.
As a result of his exceptional performance and accomplishments as a warrior, Olson has become a role model for his peers and comrades. As an NCO, he will be able to further his impact as a best warrior and future leader.
“These soldiers who are competing now are truly top notch soldiers,” Wilson said. “(Olson) is truly a special Soldier in the MDNG and I cannot wait to see the type of leader that he is going to become.”