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Pfc. Nathan Johnson of Arlington Heights was named the Illinois Army National Guard’s “Soldier of the Year” and Sgt. Terry Lair of Pekin was named the “Noncommissioned Officer of the Year” after a grueling 3-day competition at Sparta Training Area in Sparta, Illinois, that pitted the top placers from each of the Illinois Army National Guard’s major subordinate commands against each other. 

The Illinois Army National Guard’s Best Warrior Competition, April 12-14, tested the Soldiers’ physical endurance, mental toughness, leadership abilities, as well as analytical and decision-making skills. Events included an Army Combat Fitness Test, land navigation, radio operations, medical tasks, and a mystery event designed to test mental agility. It concluded with a timed 12-mile road march with full military gear and rucksack.  

Johnson is a student at William Rainey Harper College in Palatine, Illinois, where he studies political science and aviation. He plans to continue his education at the University of Illinois in Urbana/Champaign. His military goal in the Illinois Army National Guard is to become a warrant officer and helicopter pilot and as a civilian he aspires to become an Illinois State Police pilot. He is a Soldier with the National Guard’s 135th Chemical Co. based in Machesney Park.   

Lair is a police officer in the Pekin (Illinois) Police Department and has been in law enforcement for the past four years. He is a noncommissioned officer with the headquarters company of the

44th Chemical Battalion based in Bloomington. He is married to Kara and they have two boys, 2-year-old Atlas and 6-month-old Damon. Both Johnson and Lair were representing their higher headquarters, the 404th Maneuver Enhancement Brigade based at Heartland Community College in Normal.  

The runners-up in the competition both represented the Urbana-based 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team. Spc. Nicholas Hester of Jacksonville, Illinois, was the runner-up for the “Soldier of the Year.” Hester is a Soldier in the brigade’s headquarters. The runner-up for “Noncommissioned Officer of the Year” was Sgt. Brandon Elliot of Springfield, Illinois, an NCO in the Springfield-based C Co., 634th Brigade Support Battalion.  

Representing the Chicago-based 34th Division Sustainment Brigade were two Soldiers from the

Rock Island Arsenal-based 6th Battalion, 54th Security Force Assistance Brigade; Spc. Mark Meyers of Woodstock, Illinois, and Sgt. Quentin Corrington of Peoria.  

The Peoria-based 65th Troop Command Brigade were represented by Spc. Anthony Porter of Crete, Illinois, a member of the Chicago-based 244th Digital Liaison Detachment, and Sgt. Brennen Hoover of Springfield, Illinois, a member of the Decatur-based A Co., 1st Battalion, 106th Aviation Regiment.  

Both Johnson and Lair will compete in the Midwest Regional Best Warrior Competition in two weeks, which is being hosted by the Iowa Army National Guard this year.

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