Winners named at the Wisconsin Army National Guard Best Warrior Competition 2024

Story by: Staff Sgt. Amber Peck – Spc. Abagail Intine contributed to this story.

FORT MCCOY, Wis. – Twelve Wisconsin Army National Guard Soldiers from across the state competed against one another for the title of Soldier of the Year and Noncommissioned Officer of the Year at the state Best Warrior Competition in Fort McCoy, Wis., March 22 – 24, 2024.

Viroqua High School graduate from Genoa, Sgt. Jake Baumgartner, was among those who competed as a Noncommissioned Officer.

Sgt. Jake Baumgartner

Over the course of three days, the Soldiers were evaluated on their proficiency in several grueling events including a call-for-fire scenario, weapons qualification, night land navigation, a written test, a timed essay, an appearance board, Army Warrior Tasks, a 12-mile ruck march with 35-pound rucksacks, and a physical fitness event.

Spc. Tevin Kenton, a cavalry scout assigned to Charlie Troop, 1st Squadron, 105th Cavalry Regiment, 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, earned the Soldier of the Year award among the junior enlisted Soldiers.

Staff Sgt. Alexander Kilbane, a unit movement officer planning instructor assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 2nd Battalion, 426th Regional Training Institute, earned the Noncommissioned Officer of the Year award among the sergeants and staff sergeants of the competition.

In addition to the individual awards, Kenton and Kilbane will represent Wisconsin at the next competition level: Region IV Best Warrior Competition against Soldiers representing Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, and Ohio. This year’s regional competition will be held May 1- 5 in Camp Dodge, Iowa.

Hosted by the state command sergeant major and the command sergeants major of the four major subordinate commands, the Best Warrior Competition is held annually and recognizes Soldiers who demonstrate commitment to the Army values, embody the Warrior Ethos, and represent the force of the future.

State-level Command Sergeant Major, Command Sgt. Maj. Curtis Patrouille led the charge for coordinating this competition.

“Mother Nature greeted us with several inches of snow, but that’s not going to stop us from going out there and giving it 100 percent,” said Patrouille.

The challenges featured a mix of physical and mental tasks, assessing basic soldiering skills not unique to any military occupational specialty which encourages any and all Soldiers to compete.

“Facing challenges makes me a better leader and a better Soldier” said Sgt. Amy Marron, a clarinetist musician assigned to the 132nd Army Band.

But competitors couldn’t possibly do this all on their own. In preparation for the highly anticipated annual competition, Soldiers are paired with sponsors who provide invaluable guidance and support.

For Kenton, in addition to his sponsor, Sgt. 1st Class Wade Blaylock, his father played a significant role in preparing him for the competition. Sgt. 1st Class Nicholas Kenton, a senior recruiting and retention noncommissioned officer assigned to Alpha Company, Recruiting and Retention Battalion, earned the prestigious title in 2015.

“My dad has shown me what it means to be a Soldier, and how to push myself and to be better,” said Spc. Kenton. “I think this [competition] represents working to be better, not only as one part of a unit, but it shows that you’re bettering yourself and then you bring this knowledge back to your unit. It helps push others around you as well.”

The runner-up for the Soldier of the Year was Spc. Sophia Kovnesky, a culinary specialist with the 3561st Quartermaster Platoon, 732nd Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 64th Troop Command. Sgt. Taylor Peecher, a mobility, counter mobility, and surveillance noncommissioned officer assigned to 724th Engineer Battalion, 157th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, claimed the number two spot for the Noncommissioned Officer of the Year.

The competitors for Soldier of the Year were:

Spc. Tevin Kenton, Charlie Troop, 1st Squadron, 105th Cavalry Regiment (Wausau, Wisconsin)

Spc. Sophia Kovnesky, 3561st Quartermaster Platoon (Oak Creek, Wisconsin)

Spc. Paul Lindemann, 1st Battalion, 121st Field Artillery Regiment (Valders, Wisconsin)

Spc. Jameson Morgan, 229th Engineer Company (Schofield, Wisconsin)

Spc. Jack Schwark, 135th Medical Company Area Support (Milwaukee)

The competitors for Noncommissioned Officer of the Year were:

Sgt. Jake Baumgartner, 1st Battalion, 121st Field Artillery Regiment (Genoa, Wisconsin)

Staff Sgt. Ava Kielisch, 54th Civil Support Team (DeForest, Wisconsin)

Staff Sgt. Alexander Kilbane, 426th Regional Training Institute (Sparta, Wisconsin)

Sgt. Amy Marron, 132nd Army Band (Milwaukee)

Sgt. Taylor Peecher, Headquarters Company, 724th Engineer Battalion (Hudson, Wisconsin)

Sgt. Selena Pena, 950th Engineer Company (Elk River, Minnesota)

Sgt. Gabryelle Wellnitz, 1st Battalion, 121st Field Artillery Regiment (Clinton, Wisconsin)

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