International affair: Tongans join Best Warrior event | NevadaAppeal.com

International affair: Tongans join Best Warrior event

Capt. Valerie Hollenback
106th Publica Affairs Detachment

In this file photo from the 2017 Nevada Guard Best Warrior contest, a Nevada Guard soldier tosses a mock grenade for distance and accuracy. The annual Best Warrior contest tests guardsmen in a variety of combat skills. This year, Tongan Marines are participating in the event in Hawthorne.

For more than two decades, the top Soldiers in the Nevada Army National Guard have annually vied for the title of Best Warrior in the state.

This year, the competition is going international, as four warriors from one of Nevada's State Partnership Program allies, Tonga, will join the field. The event, which runs through Thursday in Hawthorne, marks the first time athletes from a Nevada Guard partner nation will compete alongside Nevada Soldiers in a Best Warrior Contest.

Nine soldiers from five Nevada Army National Guard battalions will compete with the four Tongan marines in seven rigorous events. During the

three-day competition, these elite competitors will be tested in their agility, endurance and knowledge on military tasks and battle drills.

Today, competitors will take the U.S. Army Physical Fitness Test, be tested on their M-4 and M-9 marksmanship skills, conduct grenade

qualifications and perform myriad military tasks and battle drills.

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On Wednesday, competitors will conduct the Army Combat Fitness Test and complete a day and night land navigation course.

During the final day on Thursday, the athletes will conduct a 12-mile ruck march and complete written tests, essays and oral boards. Winners of the competition will be announced on Thursday night.

For the four Tongan marines, the competition may prove to be a literal uphill battle due to the challenge of Hawthorne's high desert

topography. Hawthorne is located at an elevation of 4,331 feet, while Tonga is mostly a country composed of islands just a few feet above sea level. The four Marines arrived in Nevada on March 1 and immediately started to train and acclimate for the competition.

In January, two representatives from the Nevada National Guard traveled to Tonga to preview the events included in this year's contest. Chief Warrant Officer 2 Petelo Soakai of the Tongan marines is traveling with and assisting the South Pacific athletes. He believes Nevada's cool weather and elevation will be the biggest challenges to the Tongan marines.

"No matter the results in the end, being able to gain knowledge and experience and participate in the competition is a prize itself," Soakai

said.

Warrant Officer Samisoni Ratoa from Fiji's armed forces is also in Nevada to observe the competition. He plans to bring as much information

back to Fiji and expects Fijians will join the competition next year. Fiji just became the Nevada Guard's second State Partnership Program partner country this winter.