148th Security Forces NCO participates in Minnesota’s ‘Best Warrior’ and Croatian ‘Best Soldier’ Competitions

  • Published
  • By Audra Flanagan
  • 148th Fighter Wing

The Minnesota National Guard hosted its ‘Best Warrior Competition’ at Camp Ripley Training Center April 25-27, 2024.  23 service members including eight international competitors participated in the event which tests the military skills, physical strength, and endurance of top junior enlisted Soldiers and Airmen, and noncommissioned officers nominated by units across the state.

148th Security Forces Specialist, Staff Sgt. Duane Southworth was the only Airman to participate in this year’s competitions.  Southworth, a 2016 graduate of Chisago Lakes High School, is a Police Officer for the City of North Branch, Minn. He is a 2022 graduate of Hennepin Technical College Law Enforcement program who also holds an Associate of Science degree in Criminal Justice from Century Community College. 

Minnesota’s ‘Best Warrior Competition’ is one of several events the Minnesota National Guard and its State Partnership Program partners, Norway and Croatia, accomplish together.  The event consisted of multiple and rigorous ruck marches, obstacle courses, medical and Soldier task tests and more.

“The Best Warrior Competition was an opportunity for me to go outside my comfort zone to become a better non-commissioned officer, Airmen, and person overall,” said Southworth. “I wanted to test my physical, mental, and emotional limits and push past them.”

Southworth stays active by running, working out and playing on a men’s flag football league.  In addition to working full time and serving in the Minnesota National Guard, Southworth is attending online classes at St. Cloud State University to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science with a minor in Spanish. 

Shortly after the Minnesota competition, Southworth packed his bags for the Croatian-equivalent event held May 7-8, 2024. Eighty service members representing 12 countries, to include Bosnia-Herzegovina; Slovenia; United Kingdom; Poland; France; Lithuania; Romania; Slovakia; Kosovo; the Czech Republic; and Bulgaria, vied for the title of ‘Best Soldier’ during the two-day event that started in Nin, Croatia. 

“The competitors spent the entire week together leading up to the event,” said 1st Sgt. Andy Riewer, a Minnesota National Guard sponsor who attended the event.  “The competitors formed a strong bond as they trained, prepared equipment, and shared tactics, techniques, and procedures for the grueling competition. They ate in the same dining hall and slept in the same open bay which enhanced the relationship-building process.”

The first day focused on weapons qualifications using the VHS-D2 Assault Rifle and the HS-9 Pistol.  The second day consisted of a 23-mile ruck march, carrying a 38-pound pack, with nine working stations that featured land navigation, water obstacles, descending slopes with a rescue rope, and precision shooting with both a rifle and pistol.  Southworth completed the ruck in Zadar, Croatia in less than eight hours.  “This was physically the hardest event I have ever done,” said Southworth.

“I’m extremely proud of Staff Sgt. Southworth for rising to the occasion with this rare opportunity in an arena with total force and international partners,” said 148th Mission Support Group Commander, Col. Ryan Kaspari.  “Staff Sgt. Southworth stands as a beacon of professionalism, with his fitness, competence, and unwavering determination on full display. Through seamless collaboration with state partners, he exemplifies the essence of critical partnerships in the crucible of the Best Warrior Competition.”