Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of stories called “Veterans Voices,” a project in honor of those who have served and who are still serving. These are tales about our military past and present.
For Joseph Wesson, Command Sgt. Major for 131 Military Police Battalion, North Dakota National Guard, there is no doubt about this particular soldier.
“Even if I looked at his historical paperwork, I could tell, you don’t make rank that fast, not knowing what you’re doing and not being passionate.”
Wesson knows a good soldier when he sees one: Sgt. Grant Schafer, 816 Military Police Company, Military Police Soldier.
Three years ago, Schafer, straight off the farm in Flasher, enlisted in the North Dakota National Guard.
“I told them, I would rather be down here at basic training versus back home fixing fence,” he recalls.
At that time, Schafer would have no idea where his military career would take him and the attention he was about to attract, but he is clear on one thing: “Everything that I’ve been able to accomplish in the North Dakota National Guard, I owe to the 816th. They’re the ones that pushed me.”
It all began when Schafer expressed interest at the battalion level that he would like to compete in the Best Warrior competition.
From there, he moved on to the state competition.
“The state-level was completely different than the company level because it’s an actual set-up event, three days long. I went through everything from weapons, Army physical fitness test, you had obstacle courses, you had a whole bunch of tasks — they rank you on that,” he said.
His final score was enough to move him on to the regionals — a very big deal.
But then, COVID-19 came around and postponed the regionals.
Without missing a beat, Schafer volunteered to go from competitively battling other warriors to battling the virus.
“I volunteered for that right out of the gate. I signed up for COVID-19 relief April 20th,” Schafer said. “One day in Fargo doing 1,000 tests, the next day in Bowman…”
When his COVID-19 mission ended Aug. 7, it was game on — again.
Schafer competed, in the virtual world, against an elite group of soldiers at regionals.
When the digital dust had settled, Schafer was 1 of 14 who earned a spot in the national competition.
In fact, he would be the first in 11 years to represent North Dakota in the National Best Warrior Competition.
It’s a grueling event, putting soldiers through the grinder, competing in hands-on warrior tasks.
“These competitions are designed to pick out the top performers,” noted Wesson.
“They throw everything at you,” Schafer remembered. “There was real blood, there was noise and gunfire going off everywhere.”
He would go on little sleep and end up in complete exhaustion.
It’s a competition meant to break you down, but Sgt. Schafer rose up to the challenge.
According to Schafer, it was an honor to even go to Nationals, much less place. He took home first place in one event and placed in multiple others.
“I’m thankful for all the opportunities I’ve had, I’ve been really fortunate,” Schafer said.
You won’t hear him brag about this accomplishment — he’s just grateful to have had the chance, and thankful to his unit and leadership in the North Dakota National Guard who trained him.