A 22-year-old citizen-soldier from Hawaii “crushed” the competition at the 2015 Army National Guard Best Warrior Competition at Camp Williams, Utah, the Hawaii National Guard said.
Spc. Cruser Barnes, a University of Hawaii-Manoa kinesiology student and scout with Troop A, 1st Squadron, 299th Cavalry Regiment, was named Soldier of the Year after winning the grueling three-day national test in late June, which stressed competitors both physically and mentally.
There was some fun along the way.
Barnes said he fired an AT-4 rocket launcher, flew in Black Hawk and Chinook helicopters, cruised around in all-terrain vehicles and was winched from the ground into an airborne Black Hawk.
Less fun was a range shoot involving running between stations over a 6-mile course to fire a variety of weapons; answering questions from seven sergeants major; completing an essay on the National Guard as a strategic power now and in 50 years; and completing a 12-mile march with a rifle, helmet and a rucksack full of gear.
“I was probably hurting the most on the range run … just running between ranges and trying to calm down (to fire at targets),” Barnes said.
Command Sgt. Maj. Dana Wingad, who traveled with Barnes, reported that “he crushed the competition,” said Lt. Col. Chuck Anthony, a Hawaii National Guard spokesman.
“These are the Best Warrior competitors from each region in the nation that he was up against,” Anthony said.
Barnes finished the 12-mile march with 35 pounds of gear in an hour and 53 minutes — a half-hour ahead of the next National Guard competitor, according to Anthony.
Day 1 saw physical fitness tests and a flight on a Black Hawk to the range run, where he shot a pistol and grenade launcher, tossed grenades and cleared a mock house using nonlethal rifle ammunition.
That was followed by a “mystery event” starting with a flight on a Chinook helicopter and ride in a van to a remote spot where Barnes and other competitors were told they had to perform a “call for fire” in which they had two minutes to figure out where they were and where the target was, and call in an Apache helicopter to attack the target.
At 2:30 a.m. the following morning, Barnes was conducting land navigation in the dark. Among other tasks over the course of the competition, Barnes was part of a medevac and had to apply first aid for a simulated chest wound.
Barnes competed against six other enlisted Guard soldiers from around the country, while seven noncom- missioned officers competed in a separate category.
In the end, Barnes was on top of his group.
“I don’t know if it’s really hit me yet. This is such a high-level (honor),” said the 2010 Kapolei High School graduate, who now lives in Kaneohe.
“I’m definitely stoked and honored to be able to represent the Hawaii National Guard at this level and the Guard overall.”
In Hawaii, Barnes competed against dozens of National Guard soldiers for the state title, Anthony said. He bested a couple dozen others at the western regional competition.
Barnes has done marathons and triathlons. He received medical training, practiced shooting, and “we ran with rucks all the time” as part of past training, he said.
“Now it’s in my head. I know it already. It’s just once I get hands on, it all comes back,” he said.
Next up is the final Best Warrior Competition in early October at Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia for all of the Army’s top finishers from the Guard, Reserve and active forces. Barnes hopes to be put on orders to be able to train until then for the event.
“I think I’ll do good. … I’m not too worried about the active-duty guys,” Barnes said.