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Parkersburg native soldiers on with Army competitions, Hollywood projects

A behind the scenes photo of Toni Dickens, a Parkersburg native, on the set of “Tenet,” a spy film written and directed by Christopher Nolan, where he plays a soldier. (Photo Provided)

PARKERSBURG — Anthony “Toni” Dickens, a Parkersburg native and 2015 Parkersburg High School graduate, has been working hard as he serves in the U.S. Army.

Dickens, 23, now lives in Los Angeles, where he is making a name for himself not only in Hollywood but in the Army as well.

During the week of Aug. 15, Dickens competed in the Best Warrior Competition (Battalion level), an annual competition that brings together the best soldiers from across the U.S. Army Reserve to earn the title of “Best Warrior” among their peers.

He will be competing in the State Competition in January.

During the Battalion level competition, four people are selected out of the Battalion, (Battalions consist of four to six companies and can include up to about 1,000 soldiers, according to the government defense website) to compete in a multi-day event that includes both mental and physical challenges.

Toni Dickens, left, runs the 8 mile ruck run against a competitor in day two of the Best Warrior Competition. (Photo Provided)

Sgt. Kaliegh Savage said Dickens holds education and the never ending process of learning very dearly.

“He is constantly reading, writing and practicing new material of interests,” said Savage. “Most importantly he listens and is observant of others.”

According to Savage the first thing the battalion looks for when selecting a competitor is the drive to want to compete.

“These competitions can open a lot of doors for a soldier’s career, so in order to be selected you must want it first. Then you must be at your peak of fitness and education within military requirements and stand on all good terms with the squad, command and unit,” said Savage.

The challenges:

Toni Dickens, right, gets ready to run the two mile event against a competitor in day two of the Best Warrior Competition. (Photo Provided)

DAY ONE: The Command Sergeants Major Board Appearance.

Competitors had to uphold perfect even measured uniform appearance with proper military bearing where they would then have to express knowledge of the Army directly before Command Sergeant Majors. Within this event Dickens was assessed on his knowledge of military leadership and counseling, current events, U.S. Army history, tactical communications, survival, battle-focused training, weapons, U.S. government and the Constitution, land navigation, the Noncommission Officer’s Creed and history and a myriad of other focus area.

DAY TWO: Army Combat Fitness Test.

Competitors had to deadlift three repetitions; throw a medicine ball over their head; do a sprint, run and carry, which involved sprinting 50 meters, dragging a 90 pound sled for another 50 meters, then carrying 90 pounds for 50 meters; hand release push-ups (Dickens explained this causes a loss in momentum and significantly decreases the amount of push-ups one can do); pull up bar knee to elbow crunches and then run two miles.

Following breakfast they competed in a weapons qualification competition, that had to be modified due to the risk of fire hazard, a radio communication qualification challenge (building an Army Radio, get a frequency and send a check); and a ruck race, where the competitors raced 8.2 miles while in full gear with a 38 pound backpack and a rifle. The modified challenge tested the competitors’ ability to take apart four weapons and re-assemble them.

DAY THREE: Land Navigation Course.

Competitors who had not dropped out by day three were driven into separate areas of the woods with a map and protractor and instructed to find four points then race to the finish.

Following that was the awards, where Dickens was awarded first place overall.

“I joined the Army at 19 and I was not passionate about it,” he said.

Dickens explained that his true passion had always been acting, and that while in Parkersburg he participated in the school theater and the Actors Guild appearing in seven plays locally.

In the two years Dickens has been in L.A. pursuing acting roles and performing stunts, he has landed a few minor roles, which he views as a great platform for the continuation of his career.

Some of those roles include an episode of “American Horror Stories,” multiple background appearances of popular shows, a commercial and most recently the role of a soldier in the movie “Tenet,” a spy film written and directed by Christopher Nolan.

Dickens said he is taking some time right now, especially with training for the state competition, to focus on his career with the Army, but will continue acting.

“I still see myself pursuing acting, but now the Army has become a huge part of my life,” he said.

Madeline Scarborough can be reached at mscarborough@newsandsentinel.com

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