National Guard Sgt. Mitchell Cooper is National Guard Best Warrior for 2017

U.S. Army Sgt. Mitchell Cooper, Co. D, 2nd Battalion 108th Infantry begins a grueling 12-mile forced march to complete the New York Army National Guard Best Warrior Competition at Camp Smith Training Site April 2, 2017. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Major Corine Lombardo)

New York Army National Guard Sgt. Mitchell Cooper of Camillus has been named one of two victors in the New York National Guard’s annual Best Warrior Competition, held March 28 to April 2.

Cooper, who is a member of Company D, 2nd Battalion, 108th Infantry, was named winner in the enlisted soldier category of the competition. Company D is based in Ithaca.

Enlisted soldiers are in the ranks of private to specialist. Although he is now a sergeant, Cooper was a specialist when the 27th Infantry Brigade Combat Team selected him for the competition.

The four-day event tests soldiers’ physical fitness, marksmanship, mastery of soldier tasks, and military knowledge. The event climaxes with a twelve-mile forced march in which the soldiers wear full field- gear and carry a 35-pound load and an M-4 carbine. Winners must finish in under three hours.

Another key event is the stress-shooting competition in which the soldiers fire the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon, a light machine gun, the M-4 carbine, and the M-9 pistol in between physical tasks. These tasks include running with a five-gallon jug of water, donning a gas mask, and dragging a simulated casualty.

“The competition is tough and demanding,” said New York Army National Guard State Command Sgt. Major David Piwowarski, who directed the competition. “It’s designed to test Soldiers physically and mentally.”

Cooper and the winner in the non-commissioned officer category – Sgt. Mitchell Stogel, a White Plains resident -will compete against National Guard Soldiers from other northeast states at Fort Dix, New Jersey, April 24 to 28.

The winners of that event will compete against other Army National Guard soldiers from around the country. Eventually the top competitors from the Army National Guard, Army Reserve, and the Active Army will compete for the title of best soldier in the entire Army.

Cooper is now a four-time winner, Piwowarski said. The process of winning New York’s Best Warrior accolade starts at the company level and moves up through battalion to brigade and then culminates with the statewide event, he explained.

“It takes Soldier who is well rounded and who can compete in different skills,” he said. “The keys are physical fitness, mental agility, and a lot of endurance.”

“The tasks are relevant and some more physically straining than others, but fun overall,” Cooper said. “I think any Soldier can learn a lot from this competition, it builds confidence and requires you to learn a lot of relevant and useful information.”

“Soldiers need to really focus on their physical fitness, practice fundamentals of marksmanship and master their basic Soldiering skills if they decide to compete,” Cooper said.

Cooper, a 23-year old infantryman, has served in the Army National Guard for over four years.

Cooper is a mason and is working towards an associate’s degree.

His military awards include the Army Achievement Medal, and the National Defense Service Medal.

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