FORT HUACHUCA, Ariz. - After long, grueling days of hot sun, yelling and pushing themselves to the point of exhaustion, two Soldiers stood tall in front of a capacity crowd June 19, in the Greely Hall Auditorium. Staff Sgt. Brian Hong and Spec. Daniel Justice, both representing the 5th Signal Command (Theater), were announced as the Network Enterprise Technology Command/9th Signal Command (Army) 2009 Noncommissioned Officer and Soldier of the Year, respectively.

The command held their annual competition June 15-18, on the historic post, culminating with the awards ceremony. Sixteen Soldiers representing each of the commands and brigades from around the globe engaged in numerous events to decide who would take the title and move onto the next level of competition.

The ceremony honored all the competitors who took part in the competition. Maj. Gen. Susan Lawrence and Command Sgt. Maj. Donald Manley, NETCOM/9th SC (A) commanding general and command sergeant major, along with retired Sgt. Maj. of the Army Jack Tilley, presented Hong and Justice several gifts from the command and commercial sponsors.

"I feel really good," Hong said after the announcement of his win. "I am also very proud of all the other competitors."

"I'm honored and humbled," Justice said. "But I can't gear down because I have to keep going."

All the competitors were challenged by an Army Physical Fitness Test, an M-16 rifle qualification, several Army Warrior Tasks, day and night urban orienteering, and a board of sergeants major. The sergeants major board did have one member that made it different from other boards; Staff Sgt. Lisa Morales, 2008 NETCOM/9th SC(A) Noncommissioned Officer of the Year, was on the board as a non-voting member, but her views of the competitors throughout the week and on the board would be taken into consideration.

Starting at 5 a.m. the first day of competition, there was no letup for the Soldiers. Nearly every hour of the next four days would be dedicated to competition events. Every one of the competitors faced challenges during the week, and the AWT was one of the toughest portions of the competition.

"My most challenging event was the Warrior Tasks because they were both physically and mentally demanding," said Spc. Thorman Bannister, representing 311th Signal Command (Theater). "Not only did I have to remember the task steps, I had to perform them."

The mystery task this year was combatives. It was especially tough for the competitors because it came at the end of the day, after pushing themselves through very physical tasks.

"When I first learned the mystery task was combatives, I was so nervous," said Sgt. Dazzerie Hill, representing 35th Signal Brigade. "I was so exhausted. I didn't know where my strength was going to come from."

But almost all expressed relief once they walked out of the board.

"When I first sat down, I was nervous," said Pfc. Carl Brown, representing 335th Signal Command (Theater). "After answering my first question correctly, I gained confidence. Confidence is the key to having a successful board appearance. Now that the competition has ended, it's a relief... as if a boulder has been lifted off my foot."

During the ceremony, Spc. Tina McCoy and Staff Sgt. Miguel Garcia Jr., both representing 7th Signal Command (Theater), were presented a special award for their essays on how to apply safety in their personal lives. But at the end, it was Hong and Justice on stage. Each congratulated the other as they were announced as the winners. They were given a standing ovation by those attending the awards ceremony. Morales presented each of the winners with the NCO saber, signifying her relinquishment of the title and their acceptance as the command's top Soldier and NCO.

"I am so proud of my two that words cannot express," said Command Sgt. Maj. Mari Washington, 5th SC (T) command sergeant major. "All of the Soldiers were outstanding competitors."

The winners and runners-up will continue training for the U.S. Army Forces Command competition, scheduled for July 26-31, at Fort Hood, Texas.

Page last updated Tue June 23rd, 2009 at 14:22