Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Michael O’Connell in the Best Warrior competition. (photo by K. Kassens/U.S. Army).

Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Michael O’Connell might be under the command of the Navy Medicine Operational Training Command but he can also call himself the Best Warrior. O’Connell took first place in the noncommissioned officer category in this year’s U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School Best Warrior Competition, in a big win for the Navy.

The annual competition took place last month at Camp Mackall, North Carolina, April 2024. The only sailor to participate in the competition, O’Connell went up against seven contenders from the Army in his category, beating them all despite the event usually being for the Army. 

The mustachioed hospital corpsman is not any medical clinician. He’s a special operations independent duty corpsman and instructor with the Naval Special Operations Medical Institute at the Joint Special Operations Medical Training Center. As an instructor, he works with several different special operations commands preparing combat medics both in the kind of healthcare skills needed for the field as well as the kind of physical and cognitive conditioning to serve in those units. The Naval Special Operations Medical Institute trains combat medics with the Rangers and Special Forces, the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, Marine Forces Special Operations Command and others. So O’Connell wasn’t entirely surprised by what the Best Warrior competition had in store. 

“I was trained in Marine Corps Reconnaissance and Marine Special Operations Command skill sets, so the tasks required of me during this competition were of a familiar and basic nature,” O’Connell said in a release on his victory. 

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That said, he did have to learn some things from the Army, particularly regulations and service-specific ideas for the oral board part of the Best Warrior challenge. The Best Warrior competition put contestants through several tests, ranging from written exams and cognitive tests to physical challenges such as a ruck march, obstacle course and land navigation exercises. It also involved tests on combat casualty care — something the hospital corpsman did well in.

Despite his skills, O’Connell wasn’t sure he had the competition locked down — “I never once thought that I had this competition in the bag,” he said. One of the exciting parts, he said, was getting back into the field on some level and putting his combat skills and training to use, rather than being the one to instruct others. 

Be thankful he’s in the Hospital Corps.

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