TSgt. Katherine Roy - Besting The Warrior Competition
by Airman 1st Class Laura Weaver, Texas Air National Guard
March 28, 2021
On a sunny morning at Camp Swift, Texas, 19 Citizen Soldiers and Airmen gather in an open field next to the obstacle course to await further instruction. Their boots are soaked from an early morning swim … in full uniform. After completing an appearance board in front of a panel and a long night of land navigation training the day before, mental fatigue is starting to creep in.
These National Guard Soldiers and Airmen are the best of the best — finalists in the the Texas Military Department Best Warrior Competition for 2021. It’s a demanding four-day competition that draws Soldiers and Airmen from around Texas and tests their tactical and technical expertise through scored events. Some of the events include a tactical road march, task lanes, an obstacle course, and an oral knowledge exam board.
One airman who stands out in the crowd is Texas Air National Guard Tech. Sgt. Katherine Roy, 136th Maintenance Squadron. She is the only female to make this year’s cut.
Texas Air National Guard Tech. Sgt. Katherine Roy, 136th Maintenance Squadron, completes the weaver portion of the obstacle course on March 4, 2021, in the Texas Military Department 2021 Best Warrior Competition at Camp Swift near Bastrop, Texas. The TMD 2021 Best Warrior Competition is a demanding four-day contest that brings together service members from the Texas Army and Air National Guard as well as Texas’ foreign partnerships to compete for the title of Texas Military Department’s Best Warrior. (Texas Air National Guard photo by Airman 1st Class Laura Weaver)
“The Best Warrior Competition is a full spectrum test of everything a service member should be, from academic, to mental bearing, and of course, the physical,” said Roy.
Roy, 39, is no stranger to the dynamics of being the only woman in a military setting. After serving five years of active duty service in the Marine Corps, Roy joined the 301st Fighter Wing, Air Force Reserve, in 2008, followed by the 136th Airlift Wing just last year.
“Being the only female doesn’t bother me — I’m used to it,” said Roy. “In the Marine Corps, there were very few women. Growing up, really all of my heroes were all male, like my father. He was passionate about his military service and extremely proud of it. He lived and breathed what he loved and what inspired him. And I was influenced by that same pride in yourself. He instilled that discipline in me and my siblings. It wasn’t like he forced it on us, but he was just an example. And that’s why he was my hero. I’ve just always wanted to be somebody that other people can look up to.”
Roy now finds herself in a competition where she will be judged by the same standards as 18 other qualifying male service members from across the state. Yet, regardless of gender and competition, Roy says the camaraderie is still strong.
“The males were a little nervous when they first saw me,” said Roy. “They would keep quiet when I walked into a room, but my teammates at the 136AW were a huge part of the others accepting me. They don’t stutter — they knock on my door and come on in, and that shows the other guys that I’m part of the team. And soon enough, we had a camaraderie. When you’re all struggling together, it brings you all level with each other, and it builds up your relationship.”
In fact, Roy is grateful to TMD in a way for organizing the competition to help make her feel included with her teammates.
“I was actually really excited the Army put me in the barracks in the same building as the NCOs,” said Roy. “When they separate you, you automatically become an outsider. But when they bring you into the actual barracks, even though there’s a divided room, it doesn’t isolate you from the information or the conversations, and that’s huge. Obviously we want to keep women safe, but it actually brings us farther from the team when we’re isolated.”
While the physical elements of the competition may be intimidating to some, it’s just another day in the life of Roy, who followed a rigorous training regimen even before finding out about the competition.
Texas Air National Guard Tech. Sgt. Katherine Roy, 136th Maintenance Squadron, works her way through a low crawl during the obstacle course on March 4, 2021, in the Texas Military Department 2021 Best Warrior Competition at Camp Swift near Bastrop, Texas. The TMD 2021 Best Warrior Competition is a demanding four-day contest that brings together service members from the Texas Army and Air National Guard as well as Texas’ foreign partnerships to compete for the title of Texas Military Department’s Best Warrior. (Texas Air National Guard photo by Airman 1st Class Laura Weaver)
“I was already training to do a full triathlon, and then hopefully an Ironman, so I was working on increasing my mileage up to 150 miles a month,” said Roy. “I’ve really upped my miles and stayed consistent with it, which is a feat I haven’t really done before. Then I added in swimming for lung strength and was also doing [cross training] every once in a while. As it got closer to the competition, I started a weight lifting program, but there's even more I‘d like to do. I want to come back next year, and my plan is to train even more.”
Roy also says even though the physical aspect is important, the mental element plays a significant factor as well.
“It’s all about mental strength and endurance,” said Roy. “They’re trying to push you to your limit, they’re trying to make you give up … it’s just like how boot camp feels. So if you can just stay mentally strong for a few days, the next day you’ll be back in your own bed, and you’ll be fine. You’re not out here forever, so just make the best of it and enjoy it.
“When you’re really exhausted, you go to a new level in your brain where you just start accepting it. When you’re pushed to your limits, you have to let go of the things that don’t matter. It’s a really freeing moment … to be stressed to the point where you’re just focused on surviving. High stress makes you cut through what’s unnecessary and appreciate what’s important. You have to go to that horrible place to come back and appreciate the little things. And that’s a great feeling.”
Roy also has a few words of encouragement for others who want to try out for future Best Warrior competitions.
“If you enjoy endurance and enjoy being part of a team, you should try it,” said Roy. “You might surprise yourself — once you get here, the group atmosphere of your teammates will carry you without you even realizing it. It’s super motivating, it’s like nothing else you’ve ever experienced and it’s totally worth trying.”
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