FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- Installation leaders gathered last week at the newly reopened NCO Club to recognize two Soldiers as winners of the 2013 Non-Commissioned Officer and Soldier of the Year competitions.

Of the 11 competitors to participate in the events, Staff Sgt. Benjamin Steele, a drill sergeant with the 3rd Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment, was named NCO of the Year, while Pfc. Robert Medina, of the 1st Battalion, 13th Infantry Regiment, was named Soldier of the Year.

"It was a great competition, a grueling competition," Fort Jackson Command Sgt. Major Kevin Benson told the gathering at the NCO Club Friday. "We had some heat injuries out there, and some blisters, but it was well worth it. They've risen to the top against all others. They've proven they should be standing up here today."

During the competition, Soldiers tested their aptitude in urban warfare simulations, board interviews, physical fitness tests, written exams and battle drills at a variety of locations on post.

Some of those locations were kept secret, requiring Soldiers to locate them on foot by reading maps.

"It was a tough competition," said Steele, who is originally from Wilmington, Ohio. "I believed the entire time there was a lot of consistency displayed in the other competitors. I thought, at the time, it was going to be fairly close. So it was quite a shock."

Medina, a native of Cisco, Texas, said he was equally surprised at the results.

"It's probably one of the craziest things I've ever experienced," Medina said. "The competition actually taught me that I could do more than what my body can withstand. I pushed myself to limits I never knew I could reach. During the 24-hour competition, I didn't even think I was going to be able to last."

Benson said Steele and Medina will participate in the TRADOC NCO and Solider of the Year competitions later this month.

First and second place for Soldier of the Year were separated by three points, Benson said.

"When we were doing the ruck march, there was a time I wanted to quit," Medina said. "I just wanted to sit down and not walk anymore because my body was hurting, but I knew I'd fail myself and fail the company as a whole. I was representing them, so I couldn't give up on it."

"I didn't really take the time to study and prepare for the competition," Steele said.

The test involved many skills he uses daily, and he said he was proud to discover his level of competency during last week's events.

"The other NCOs I know could probably do that, as well," he said.

Medina agreed, saying he initially doubted his ability to recall skills learned in Basic Combat Training.

"I haven't used them in a while," he said. "I wasn't sure about them. But, whenever I got to the task at hand, they came out like second nature."

Because Fort Jackson is a training facility, it has a smaller pool of potential candidates to choose from when compared to other installations, Benson said.

"We've got a 50/50 mix of civilians and (Soldiers) on the installation," Benson said. "When you talk about enlisted Soldiers, we've got a very small pool to pick from to go out and compete. I'm extremely proud of everyone and all what they've done."