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Arizona Guard, Partner Kazakhstan Compete to be Best Warrior

  • Published
  • By Capt. Erin Hannigan,
  • 123rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

PHOENIX - Early mornings, long days and late nights were all part of the grueling three-day experience of over 30 Arizona National Guard members and Republic of Kazakhstan soldiers who competed to be Arizona’s 2023 Best Warrior at the end of April.

Held annually in states nationwide, the Best Warrior Competition consists of physical fitness events, marksmanship drills, medical tasks, and written exams. All ranks are encouraged to compete, but only one noncommissioned officer and one enlisted Soldier will bring home the title of Best Warrior and advance to the regional competition in Hawaii. 

“This is a great opportunity as a Soldier to showcase your abilities and talents,” said Spc. Luke Craun with the 158th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, Army National Guard. 

“I learned a lot during this competition,” said Craun, who placed in the top five in the 12-mile ruck-march event, finishing in 2 hours and 33 minutes.

Joining Arizona Guardsmen this year were two military service members from the Republic of Kazakhstan, Sgt. 3rd Class Yermek Zailagi and Sgt. Nazira Albossynova. 

Kazakhstan is one of Arizona’s two partners in the Department of Defense National Guard Bureau State Partnership Program. Both competitors finished in the top 10 during the ruck march. Zailagi was first, at 2 hours and 10 minutes.

Fleet Master Chief Derrick Walters, U.S. Central Command senior enlisted leader, and ARCENT CSEL Command Sgt. Maj. Garza attended the competition. 

“The fact that we have a team from one of our partner countries, Kazakhstan, here competing speaks to what Gen. (Michael Erik) Kurilla (CENTCOM commander) likes to talk about, which is people, partners and innovation,” said Walters.

Arizona and Kazakhstan were among the first 13 partnerships in the SPP, which began in 1993. The 30-year program has grown to 100 partner-nations and is a key U.S. security cooperation tool. The program facilitates collaboration across all aspects of civil-military affairs, improves interoperability and enhances U.S. access and influence while increasing readiness.

Arizona sent two Guardsmen to Kazakhstan’s Best Warrior Competition in November. The competition had similar events, challenging participants in physical fitness, tactical obstacle course, marksmanship and hand-to-hand combat. 

Competitions like these test the readiness of service members, boost morale and foster the enduring partnership between two nations. 

The winners from this year’s Arizona competition were to be announced at the annual Civilian, Airmen, Soldier of the Year banquet.