FORT HUACHUCA, Ariz. - While the dry desert heat soared to nearly 100 degrees, a Soldier dressed in "full battle rattle," or protective combat gear, wiped the dust and sweat from her brow and focused on the task at hand. Silently she observed the swinging beam, waiting until the right moment and then moved forward with purpose to get to the other side of the moving obstacle as quickly and deftly as possible. One by one, twelve other Soldiers navigated through a series of wooden, metal and rope obstacles in the confidence course, under the watchful eye of the sergeants charged with observing and recording their performance.

These 13 Soldiers, who were selected as the best of the best in their respective Signal commands around the world, converged on Fort Huachuca to test their skills June 14-18 in the Network Enterprise Technology Command/9th Signal Command (Army) Noncommissioned Officer and Soldier of the Year Competition.

After four rigorous days and nights, Staff Sgt. James Becker, representing the 1st Signal Brigade, Korea, received top honors as the NCO of the Year, and Spec. Brian Williams, of the 21st Signal Brigade, Maryland, earned the title of Soldier of the Year.

They became the most outstanding NCO and Soldier of the year for the command charged with operating and defending the Army LandWarNet - the Army\'s portion of the Global Information Grid. The command's 17,000 Soldiers and Civilians work together in more than 100 locations around the world to ensure the Army's network enterprise enables the Warfighter at all echelons of operation.

"Everybody did an amazing job and gave this competition everything they had," said Becker, a communications site chief assigned to the 293rd Signal Company, Camp Carroll, Korea. "I look forward to improving myself as best I can, doing better on the next board, and representing NETCOM."

Becker and Williams will represent the 9th SC(A) in the U.S. Army Forces Command NCO and Soldier of the Year competition in August.

"I thought it was a really close competition, we all worked hard," said Williams, a public affairs specialist assigned to Headquarters Company, 21st Signal Brigade, Fort Detrick, Md. "When we saw each other working so hard, it was a great motivation to push ourselves even harder."

The competition consisted of five scored events including the Army Physical Fitness Test, qualifying with the M-16A2 rifle, day and night land navigation, a written examination and submission of two written essays, and an appearance in front of a panel of senior enlisted Soldiers at a Soldier board. Each event counted for a specific number of points, with 500 being the maximum number of points a Soldier can score.

"The reason we test land navigation skills in an Urban Orienteering course is because it's realistic - it's the environment that Soldiers are experiencing during deployment," said Master Sgt. Lucas Reid, 9th SC(A), who served as NCOIC of the competition. "Also new this year was the paintball portion of the Warrior Task Training. We try and make it fun and challenging at the same time."

Runner-up for NCO of the Year was Sgt. Phillip Barker, 160th Signal Brigade. Runner-up for Soldier of the Year was Spec. Sharlene Christensen, 54th Signal Battalion. Both Soldiers travelled from Kuwait to represent the 335th Signal Command (Theater).

"This competition taught me that no matter what your skill level is at any given event, if you work as a team and keep a positive attitude, you will be very successful," said Christensen, information management officer in the Theater Network Operations and Security Center, Camp Arifjan, Kuwait.

Her fellow competitors for Soldier of the Year were Pfc. Michael Clark, 1st Signal Bde; Spec. Dustin Higgins, 311th Signal Command (Theater), Hawaii; Spec. Cesar Cobena, 5th Signal Command (Theater), Germany; Spec. Brittany Williams, 7th Signal Command (Theater); and Spec. Lidia Alvarez-Rios, 9th SC(A).

"I feel we did well as a team out here on the WTT event. We had to perform a functions check on our weapons, move under enemy fire, and employ a hand grenade," Brian Williams said. "With each task rolling into the next, we had to come up with a plan and cover each other while moving under fire toward our objective."

Sergeants competing for NCO of the Year included Staff Sgt. Barrette George, 21st Signal Bde.; Sgt. LeMarquis Jackson, 311th SC(T); Sgt. Edwin Hunt, 5th SC(T); and Staff Sgt. Lynna Revard, 7th SC(T).

"The most challenging was definitely the confidence course, but it was fun. We got through 18 obstacles in 18 minutes," said Revard. "I enjoyed the whole week; it was great getting to know each other and helping motivate each other."

"For land navigation, we have the Soldiers utilize the most current, widely-used equipment, including the Defense Advanced GPS Receiver (DAGR) and the Advanced System Improvement Program (ASIP) tactical radio, the latest generation of Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System (SINCGARS), to show the Soldiers that if they plug in the correct variables, this technology can help them accomplish the mission," said Sgt. 1st Class Scott MacFarlane, a telecommunications chief in G-3 Current Operations, 9th SC(A) "They can take this knowledge back to their commands and familiarize other Soldiers on the equipment and the benefits it brings to the fight."

Spec. Daniel Justice, NETCOM's 2009 Soldier of the Year, representing 5th SC(T), attended every event throughout the week to provide moral support, sun block and tips for success.

"This year's competition seems to be a little more demanding, and I see they have made improvements based on our After Action Review comments on some of the events," Justice said. "We didn't have the confidence course last year and it definitely looks physically challenging. They've made it a great event to bring these Soldiers together as a team."

"They fought hard, and got through a long day of many challenges, and that's all you can ask of a Soldier," Staff Sgt. Jose Fuentes, 11th Signal Brigade, Fort Huachuca, combatives team coach, said of the competitors after the combatives event.

Fuentes was one of more than a dozen Soldiers from the 11th Sig. Bde. who supported the event alongside NETCOM Soldiers who facilitated the competition. A team of six Army combat camera Soldiers from the 55th Signal Company (Combat Camera), Fort Meade, Md., led by Staff Sgt. Jennifer Cohen, covered the event and produced a video of the competition's highlights for the closing ceremony.

While at NETCOM, the participants attended the dedication June 17 of the new Signal Soldier Monument which sits in front of Greely Hall. Depicting the four Signaleers featured in the bronze monument, four Soldiers participated in the ceremony, each dressed in the uniforms worn during four wars Signaleers have supported during the past 150 years of Signal Corps history. Each Soldier presented a message about the corps' legendary part of the fight - getting the message through.

The night before the winners were announced, the competitors attended a dinner in the nearby historic town of Tombstone, Ariz., along with the command sergeants major of the NCO and Soldier boards.

"It was a tough decision on the winners of this year's competition because you are all outstanding Soldiers," Command Sgt. Maj. Gerald Williams, 9th SC(A) command sergeant major, said at the dinner. "While we can pick only pick two for the top, every one of you are winners and I would be honored to fight alongside each one of you. I thank you for your dedication and your commitment to excellence."

"Without a doubt, the men and women who have participated this week are among our best national assets," said Maj. Gen. Susan B. Lawrence, 9th SC(A) commanding general, at the award ceremony June 18 in Greely Hall. "Congratulations to all of this year's competitors; you make us proud, and I am extremely proud to serve with you."

Later that day, a special role was bestowed on the participants during the rededication ceremony of the Signal Cove of Remembrance at Greely Hall. Theirs was the honor of escorting the Gold Star families, those who have lost a family member during wartime, to the cove as it was rededicated in memory of fallen Signal comrades who made the ultimate sacrifice while serving the Army in the Signal Corps.

"Never forget our fallen quiet warriors," reads the message at the top of the cove's Wall of Honor. Below are the names and portraits of the 70 fallen Signaleers who were assigned to signal units or supporting signal missions when they died. The cove is silently guarded by two bronze statues, a "Noble Eagle" and the Eternal Flame and Semaphores of the Signal Regimental crest, symbolizing the timeless courage of these great Signaleers who were committed to getting the message through.

"We did our best to give these Warriors a special place that would help us remember their sacrifice," Lawrence said. "We carefully selected the entrance to our place of work as a fitting place for the cove, so that we can be daily reminded of their dedication; so we will not forget."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16