FORT BENNING, Ga. (USASOC News Service, May 26, 2015) -- The 75th Ranger Regiment announced the winners to the 2015 Col. Ralph Puckett Leadership Award, NCO of the Year, and Best Warrior of the Year, during a ceremony at Fort Benning, May 21.

This year's Col. Ralph Puckett Leadership Award recipient was Capt. Michael Blanchard, 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment. Blanchard, a native of Yakima, Wash., serves as an infantry officer and joined the unit in December 2013.

Blanchard competed against the top junior officers from across the Regiment for this annual award. The award is designed to recognize junior officers who have demonstrated leadership in demanding circumstances where their personal actions have clearly made a difference in the outcome of events. The competition tests core Ranger skills and the ability to think through tactical or complex problems in demanding circumstances and generate successful options.

Presenting the awards to this year's winners was retired Col. Ralph Puckett, former Honorary Colonel of the Regiment. While retired Command Sgt. Maj. Matthew Walker, 2nd and 3rd Ranger Battalions, served as the guest speaker.

This year's Noncommissioned Officer of the Year was Sgt. Robert Love, 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, and the Best Warrior of the Year was Spc. Alexander Van Meter, 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment.

The NCO and Best Warrior of the Year Competition is designed to select the Soldier and NCO who represents the best of the best, based on performance, potential and professional knowledge. These Rangers will represent the 75th Ranger Regiment in the U.S. Army Special Operations Command Best Warrior competition being held at Fort Bragg, N.C. in June.

Love, a native of Waco, Texas, joined the 75th Ranger Regiment in February 2009 as an infantryman. He has served with 2nd and 3rd Ranger Battalions, deploying seven times to Afghanistan.

Van Meter, a native of Lodi, Calif., completed the Ranger Assessment and Selection in February 2014. He is an infantryman and has deployed to Afghanistan this year.

"You are all great Americans and the best this country has to offer," Walker said. "This is not the top of the mountain, this is a false hillside. Continue to push yourselves as the journey continues."

These competitors competed in an Army Physical Fitness Test, an M-4 Qualification and Stress Shoot, Common Task Testing and a day and night land navigation course on the first day. On the second day, the Rangers began with a Ranger First Responder that tests one of the Regiment's "Big Five" core competencies, followed by an Urban Land Navigation course on Fort Benning Main Post. The competition concluded with a board that featured a panel of senior noncommissioned officers.

"This is a great honor and I am looking forward to the next round," said Love said.

"It was exciting to hear my name called," Van Meter said. "I am even more excited for the additional training I am going to receive and the next challenge."