FORT STEWART, GA -- After evaluating four Soldiers as they underwent 72 hours of grueling mental and physical combat tasks amidst temperatures high above 90 degrees, the Installation Management Command Southeast Region announced its 2008 Soldier and Noncommissioned Officer of the Year here at Club Stewart, June 26. Hailing from Fort Benning, Ga., Private Jarred Palmer and Sergeant Kevin Miller will represent the region and advance to the IMCOM-level competition slated to be held at Fort A.P. Hill, Va. later this month.

This was the first time Fort Stewart hosted such an event.

"Fort Stewart brings the full package," said IMCOM-SE Command Sergeant Major Harold Gill, noting that the installation's currently hot and humid climate and swamp-like terrain provides the Soldiers the true meaning of competition. "(This competition) identifies our best and our brightest Warriors out there to compete against each other."

Competing against Palmer and Miller was Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield's representatives Spc. Hilda Volzgen and Sgt. Darcella Marshall, both Soldiers with the U.S. Army Garrison's Headquarters and Headquarters Company.

Striving to be the 'best of the best' all four Soldiers attempted to claim the Southeast Region title through the Army Physical Fitness Test, a written essay, hands on warrior tasks, M4/M16 rifle qualification, day and night land navigation, a 12-mile foot march and a mystery event.

Palmer, a military policeman, graduated high school this time last year, and said winning the Soldier of the Year competition is a big accomplishment.

"I always wanted to join the Army," he said. "I never really understood how much opportunity the Army offers you until now."

Palmer said his toughest challenge was the board appearance. Seven sergeants major from around the Southeast region to include board president, Command Sgt. Maj. Russell Saddler; Fort Stewart Directorate of Emergency Services Max Brown; Hunter Army Airfield Garrison Command Sgt. Maj. Russell Saddler; Command Sgt. Maj. Arthur Washington, Fort Gordon garrison command sergeant major; Fort Jackson Garrison Command Sgt. Maj. Lewis Kellam; Fort Bragg Garrison Command Sgt. Maj. Robin Sheehan; Command Sgt. Maj. Kenny Leonguerrero and Fort McPherson garrison command sergeant major.

The 19-year-old Oregon City, Ore. native said working with his mentor -and region NCO winner- Miller helped him to overcome the board challenge.

Although Miller set aside time to help his Soldier, he said the competition was no cake walk for him either.

"I'm glad that it's over with," the 23-year-old Watertown, Wisc. Native said. "It was a very rough competition. By far the toughest challenge was the 12-mile ruck march. It's already hard (to ruck) 12 miles, but this Fort Stewart heat just adds another level to it. I believe its 40 percent strength and 60 percent mental. You just have to keep telling your self to 'keep moving on' and eventually you're going to make it to the finish line."

Finishing in first for the foot march more than an hour ahead of his competitors, Miller also outshined his competition in several other areas. He received 289 points out of 300 on the Army Physical Fitness Test, shot 34 of 40 at the range, excelled in the Day Land Navigation and received all possible points for the Night Land Navigation. Additionally Miller almost doubled competitor Marshall's overall points with a score of 446 out of 560.

"I accomplished something I never imagine I could accomplish," Miller said, adding that winning this competition brought on a newfound sense of pride. "I'm going to keep training, though. I have some more things to learn like everybody else."

Miller advised future competitors to be in great physical shape and to train hard.

"You can't know everything, but study the best you can," he said.

Marshall and Volzen will serve as alternates for the IMCOM-level competition.

Marshall, a 24-year-old unit supply specialist, said ...

Volzgen agreed.

"They are indeed the best of the best," said Saddler after he and Stewart-Hunter Garrison Command Sgt. Maj. Charles Durr honored the winners. "They have endured the physical and mental demands of this competition and never once not given it their all. They are worthy of all the praise and recognition for a job well done. This event will always be a memorable moment in their lives- one that will make them a better Soldier, a great leader."

Next year's IMCOM-SE region Soldier-NCO of the Year competition is tentatively scheduled to be held at Fort Rucker, Ala.