Local National Guardsman competing for nation's top Army warrior honor
He's the best military warrior in Indiana and a seven-state regional area.
Now, a Greene County resident will be competing in a grueling national military multi-task event over the next few days at Fort Benning, Ga.
Indiana National Guard Sgt. First Class Gregory Swanson will test his military and physical skills in the Army's Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) Warrior of the Year competition starting this weekend.
Swanson, who is assigned to the 387th Military Police Company unit out of New Albany, leaves today for Georgia where competition is expected to start bright and early Saturday morning.
He'll be in competition against seven other Non-Commissioned officer regional winners, who have attained the rank of sergeant or higher.
Swanson in his civilian job is an Indiana Department of Natural Resources Conservation Officer assigned to Greene County for the last 10 years.
All of the finalist soldiers will also be treated to a trip to Washington D.C. where they will be able to tour the U.S. Department of Defense offices at the Pentagon and they'll visit Arlington National Cemetery and other sites in the nation's capitol.
The 31-year-old Swanson, who has been in the National Guard for nearly 15 years, won the state competition after two days of competition at Camp Atterbury Joint Maneuver Training Center in April.
He joined the National Guard at age 17 following graduation in 1995 from South Putman High School near Greencastle.
This competition featured representatives from each of the major Guard command units in the state.
He then won the National Guard's Regional Warrior competition, also conducted at Camp Atterbury in May. The regional event featured the state winners from Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Indiana.
The soldiers who competed were chosen out of about 45,000 National Guardsmen in the region.
In both the state and regional events, each soldier's warrior skills, physical endurance and knowledge were put to the test during the two-day period.
In the first day of competition soldiers took a physical fitness test, qualified with weapons, completed Army Warrior tasks, practiced combatives and tested day and night land navigation skills.
After about three hours of rest, the second day consisted of a 12-mile road march with each soldier carrying at least 35 pounds of weight, then a written exam on aspects of Army knowledge, and the appearance boards in dress uniforms to finish the series of events.
They also completed several "warrior tasks" such as the loading and unloading of a machine gun, first aid and radio communications, weapons qualifications and a written essay. The competitors were also drilled on the Army's self-defense program against other soldiers.
Swanson said the national competition will have a couple more events and they'll be trying to overcome the affects of sleep depravation.
"We don't get but a few hours of sleep in between the events. The competition is a couple days long. At the regional, by the time I got in and got cleaned up, I only had about two hours sleep before I had to get up and do the 12-mile road march," he explained.
In preparation of this weekend, Swanson said he had been training by going out and running with the 35-pound backpack near his home, located southeast of Bloomfield.
"I've been doing just regular physical fitness stuff. So it's been kind of grueling and it will be a relief to have it all over," he said.
Swanson said the National Guard has been an important part of his life for nearly 15 years.
He said initially he joined the Guard for some college money and also for the challenge that the program presented.
Swanson was deployed to Iraq for a year in 2006 and was assigned to the Newport Chemical Depot near Newport in 2003 on a detail for Indiana Homeland Security.
Swanson said the experiences that he's had in the National Guard have enhanced his job as a Conservation Officer.
"Both of them kind of help each other out. I've learned things in the Army that have helped me out in my civilian job and I've learned things in my civilian job that have helped me out in the military. I think the two kind of compliment each other in different ways," he said.
The rural Bloomfield resident believes in the mission of the National Guard and feels it plays a key role in protecting the security of the nation -- both at home and abroad.
"I think more than anything since Sept. 11, 2001 I feel it's an important military role. We have been tasked heavily with deployments. I don't know what the exact percentage is, but it has got to be a very high percentage. Many soldiers have done several -- two or three deployments -- so at this point I just feel like it's my duty. It's what I owe the United States. If I can do that part-time and still be able to fulfill my duty, that's a good feeling," he explained.