FORT MCPHERSON, Ga. - It takes a special breed to be a warrior in U.S. Army Central. It takes a person who is always ready at a moment's notice to do whatever is required to accomplish the various and challenging missions necessary to keep the nation safe in a tumultuous 21st century world.

To be the best of this highly distinguished unit is an honor that Staff Sgt. James Garlitz, a finance noncommissioned officer with the 1st Sustainment Command (Theater), and Spc. Justin Nelson, an intelligence analyst with Special Troops Battalion, USARCENT, can claim.

After three rigorous days of competition that challenged every aspect of their training, skills and abilities, Garlitiz, a native of Annapolis, Md., and Nelson, a native of Bridgeport, Texas earned the titles of USARCENT NCO and Soldier of the Year for 2008 at Fort McPherson, Ga., June 27.

"To be selected as the NCO and Soldier of the Year takes a real commitment to excellence, a dedication to professionalism and a drive to win," said Command Sgt. Maj. John D. Fourhman, USARCENT's command sergeant major. "It also takes leaders at the unit level to be coaches and mentors to the Soldier before and during the competition," he added.

During the event, the warriors took an Army Physical Fitness Test and a written examination on general military topics, completed a weapons qualification range, negotiated a day and night land navigation course, were evaluated in a number of critical Warrior tasks and battle drills and appeared before a board of sergeants major who evaluated their knowledge, appearance and military bearing in a number of key areas.

Also competing were:

- Sgt. Iraq Bleckledge a human resource NCO with Area Support Group, Qatar

- Sgt. Troy Henley, a human resource specialist with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Special Troops Battalion, USARCENT G1 Division

- Staff Sgt. Karl Runningen, a chemical operations NCO with the Area Support Group, Kuwait

- Spc. Teddy Thelwell, a human resource specialist with Area Support Group, Qatar

- Spc. Richard Yoos, a wheeled vehicle mechanic with the Area Support Group, Kuwait

"All of the Soldiers who competed here are winners," said Fourhman. "They've all proven themselves by winning boards at unit levels and being recommended by their commands. All of them will return to their units better prepared and better educated to perform their tasks."

Nelson confirmed these words.

"I feel like I have left every board I went to smarter than when I went into it. All of the boards I have gone to, I've learned something that will help me in life and in my career," he said.

Garlitz said the stiff competition of the other participants kept him sharp throughout event.

"I have to say that at every portion of the competition I was pushed to be even better than my standard of excellence would have been because I was constantly worried about somebody else doing better in this or that. I was thinking if I wasn't perfect, somebody else was going to win," he said.

Fourhman said at this level of competition, with the caliber of warriors who were present, winning often comes down to something as simple as doing one more push up or hitting one more target than the others.

Garlitz and Nelson will go on to represent USARCENT and compete at the U.S. Army Forces Command 2008 NCO and Soldier of the Year competition at Fort Hood, Texas, in July.