LITTLE FALLS, Minn. – Minnesota National Guard Soldiers and Croatian and Canadian Armed Forces competed to find this year’s best Noncommissioned Officer and Soldier during Minnesota’s 2023 Best Warrior Competition at Camp Ripley March 29-April 1.

The Minnesota Guard and Croatia have a 27-year relationship through the Department of Defense National Guard Bureau State Partnership Program, and Minnesota has longstanding ties with Canada.

“The continued coordination with partners like Croatia and Canada is rewarding for our Soldiers and leaders alike,” said Army 1st Sgt. Jack Esget, the competition’s noncommissioned officer in charge.

The Best Warrior Competition tested participants’ knowledge of Soldier skills over four days. The competition included an appearance board, written exams, essays, a physical fitness event, weapons qualifications, medical evacuation tasks, an obstacle course, a live-fire exercise, and a ruck march. In addition, this year’s contest featured the “Valor Ruck,” which included five stations, each highlighting the story of a Medal of Honor recipient.

“Camp Ripley is a world-class training site, and we are excited to host not only Minnesota’s best noncommissioned officers and Soldiers, but also seven competitors from Croatia and Canada,” said Army Command Sgt. Maj. Rian Hofstad, Camp Ripley’s garrison command sergeant major.

Of the 20 Minnesota National Guard, four Croatian, and three Canadian Soldiers who competed, only one Minnesota noncommissioned officer and one Minnesota Soldier will advance to compete at the next level, the National Guard’s Region IV Best Warrior Competition, hosted by the Ohio National Guard in May. Special recognition and pride go with the international allies as they place throughout the event.

On Day One, Soldiers conducted vehicle maintenance checks and services, changed tires and competed in the live-fire exercise. Next, the noncommissioned officers took on the valor ruck march around Camp Ripley’s cantonment area and tested their knowledge of Army tasks and drills.

“I hope this competition is a career-developing experience for all our competitors and that this opportunity continues to foster our long-lasting international partnerships,” Esget said.

On the second day of the competition, in cold and icy conditions, the noncommissioned officers treated a simulated casualty and performed vehicle maintenance and live-fire exercises. The Soldiers took on the valor ruck with an ice sheet covering Camp Ripley.

Participants also competed in low-light land navigation with snowshoes, combating the deep snowpack of north central Minnesota.

The 2023 Minnesota Soldier of the Year is Spc. Gabriel Senf, an infantryman with the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 135th Infantry Regiment. Army Staff Sgt. Leo Kerfeld, an infantryman with the Charlie Company, 2nd Battalion, 135th Infantry Regiment, is the Noncommissioned Officer of the Year.

By CPT William Hermanson, Minnesota National Guard

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