In historic first, Utah Airman wins state Best Warrior Competition

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Annie Edwards
  • 151st Air Refueling Wing

Airman 1st Class Kelley Barney, a member of the 151st Security Forces Squadron, earned the title of the Utah National Guard’s Best Warrior in the junior enlisted category after winning a grueling three-day competition at Camp Williams, Utah, April 7-9.

This was the first year the event, held annually by the Utah Army National Guard to determine the state’s Soldier of the Year, was open to members of the Air National Guard. Barney and six other Airmen competed alongside 26 Soldiers vying for the title in four different categories: junior enlisted, noncommissioned officer, senior noncommissioned officer, and officer.

Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Miller, Utah National Guard Senior Enlisted Advisor, said the Best Warrior Competition was unique this year because they were able to include the Air Guard. Utah is the only state in the country that allows Airmen to compete in the event, he said.

“It gave every one of us a lot of pride, because they’re warriors just like the Soldiers and they did very well,” said Miller. “They don the uniform with pride just like a Soldier does and that’s what makes the Utah National Guard so special. It doesn’t matter whether it says Army or Air Force, it’s the Utah National Guard team.”

The three-day event included a written test, an essay, a formal board interview, a physical fitness test, and a ruck march. Competitors were also graded on their proficiency in accomplishing several different tasks, including weapons marksmanship, land navigation, and other events designed to test their warrior skills.

All participants, including the Airmen, were held to Army standards for each event in the competition.

Barney said she wanted to compete in the event to challenge herself mentally and physically, adding that when she started the competition her only expectation was to finish it.

“When they called my name I didn’t believe them at first,” said Barney. “I was fully anticipating who was going to win and it wasn’t me. I was very shell shocked.”

Barney said she received a lot of support from her squadron while training for the event; they encouraged her to do extra workouts and helped her prepare for the ruck march and other physical challenges as a group.

Tech. Sgt. Chris Cook, a logistics management specialist with 151st Logistics Readiness Squadron, said that this competition was a great way to foster camaraderie between Airmen and Soldiers and provide a sense of Joint Force, which is needed as they deploy together in today’s modern warfare.

“Being able to compete with these guys and go through the emotional, mental and physical challenges that we went through over the past few days was one of those lifetime experiences that you look back on and can draw a lot of leadership experiences from,” said Cook.

Chief Master Sgt. Matthew Hooper, 151st Air Refueling Wing Command Chief, said the competition provided an opportunity for training and joint collaboration that will help the participants become more effective leaders.

“The relationships that our Airmen are building with Soldiers today will be relationships that they’ll be able to count on in the future when they become senior leaders,” Hooper said.  

Barney will not be allowed to advance to the regional or national Best Warrior Competitions, due to current policy.