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Maximum Warrior: Special Ops

For the third year running, Maxim gathered America’s most elite military operators—Army Special Forces, Navy SEALs, Air Force Combat Controllers, Marine Recon—for a weeklong contest of combat skills, physical endurance, and mental toughness. When the smoke cleared, only one Maximum Warrior was left standing.


Photograph by Brandon Dill

"You don’t know when that 30 seconds is going to come, so that’s how we built Maximum Warrior.”

So explains Ret. Special Forces Sgt. Maj. Karl Erickson as he walks the grounds of T1G, an elite military training facility tucked away in Crawfordsville, Arkansas. T1G is the playing field for Maximum Warrior, Maxim’s annual competition between members of America’s highest echelon of military operators. Sgt. Maj. Erickson was the inaugural winner, and for the past two years he has designed the challenges that subsequent competitors have faced. This year he’s built his most sadistic course yet.


Photograph by Brandon Dill

The warriors will face IED explosions, flash bangs, and live fire. They will be re­quired to rappel down buildings, execute sniper missions in the dark, drive escape vehicles at breakneck speed, and carry 180-pound dummies over distances and obstacles the human body was not meant to cross. And just to keep things interesting, they’ll be fed bad intel, have their missions changed midcourse, and be given weapon systems that jam on purpose. They’ll be blindfolded, dunked in frigid, muddy water—in short, their lives will be made to suck over the next three days. But that’s something these guys are more than used to.

Photograph by Brandon Dill

This year’s contestants include Navy SEALs, Army Special Forces and scout snipers, Air Force combat controllers, and Marine machine gunners and Force Recon. All these men have served multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, earning honors including Medals of Valor and Purple Hearts. They have gone through training programs so brutal that a class of 100 can yield just three or four graduates. These are some tough motherfuckers. 


Photograph by Brandon Dill

Joe of the USMC (for security reasons, Warriors will be referred to by their first names only) is not daunted by the grueling challenges that await him. “Marines are trained to push ourselves as hard as possible regardless of how bad it hurts.” And Joe knows suffering. Real suffering. “When I was in Iraq for the first time, I didn’t shower for 47 days. The only reason I got to shower on the 48th day was because I got blown up.” Driving down a road in Fallujah, he was hit by an IED and had a brain injury that continues to cause balance and memory issues. “But I’m like a pit bull; I never give up. When I’m down…even if my legs are broken, I’m crawling. I’ll do whatever it takes.”


Photograph by Brandon Dill

All the men here have been through hell to get to this stage in their careers, and they have tremendous respect for one another. There is no trash talk as they suit up and make adjustments to their Blackhawk! gear. For 10 intense competitors about to battle it out, the chatter is downright friendly. Says Chris (Marine Force Recon), “I’ve served with Navy, Air Force, and Army guys in joint commands. We have our own niches, but at the end of the day we’re all warriors, and that’s what matters.”

On top of the physical challenges they will face, mental challenges will crash down just as hard. Cars will stall, instructions won’t make sense, smoke will blind them at the most inopportune moments. Chaos is a reality of combat and this contest, and that is perhaps where combat controller Russ (USAF) might have an advantage.


Photograph by Brandon Dill

“Combat controllers attach to other SOF teams to control airpower from the ground,” he explains. “I’ll be conducting the same mission with them, but at the same time talking to helicopters and controlling drones overhead. I might have 10 aircraft in one ear and the rest of the team screaming in the other. I’ve got to control the chaos and prioritize the problems.”


Photograph by Brandon Dill

When asked about their proudest moments in combat, the Warriors invariably cite missions from which all their men came back safely. And a few, like Pete (Army Special Forces), offer up moments when their grand efforts to spread freedom were met with small gestures.

“I’ve had people in all countries come up to me to shake my hand. It wasn’t always for something I personally did, but they were thanking previous generations of soldiers. To me that’s the most satisfying thing. I’m doing other human beings a service to make their lives better.”


Photograph by Brandon Dill

As night descends on T1G, the cama­raderie between the Warriors grows. But tomorrow, when the first mission begins, those smiles will disappear and be replaced with faces no enemy would ever want to see in a firefight.

Go to maximumwarrior.com and Max­im’s Xbox 360 app to see all the action and find out who won the battle.

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