FORT LEE, Va. (Army News Service, Nov 20, 2013) -- From the pre-dawn hours to after the sun dipped below the horizon, the Army's finest warriors were pushed to their limits both physically and mentally during the first day of the Army's 2013 Best Warrior Competition.

The 24 Soldiers, who began the day with an early morning physical fitness test, said they expected the unexpected on the first day of competition, Nov. 20, but were still surprised.

"It was challenging, to say the least," said Sgt. 1st Class Jason Manella, with the Army Reserve's B Company, 445th Civil Affairs Battalion.

Soldiers were on their feet all day, trekking for miles over gravel, in fields and through woods with their weapon and gear to the various competition sites, where they completed warrior tasks and battle drills.

"They definitely put us to the test today," Manella said.

Even though it is a competition, there is definitely camaraderie, he said. Soldiers helped each other just as they would on the battlefield.

It's a great feeling to have made it this far, he said.

"It's very humbling. It's amazing to be around these other Soldiers," Manella said.

Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III praised the Soldiers for their accomplishments and for making it to the top of the Army-wide competition.

"Be proud and give it all you've got," he told them on the eve of Best Warrior.

After the early morning physical fitness test, Chandler reminded Soldiers that the competition is not just about how fast they can run.

"We're testing the total Soldier here -- physical, mental, emotional," he said.

Other challenges on the first day of competition included servicing a vehicle, responding to an improvised explosive device attack, navigating an obstacle course, marksmanship, responding to an ambush, treating a gravely wounded Soldier in a battlefield medical emergency, land navigation, and composing an essay.

"It really pushed your mental as well as your physical limitations and it wasn't what I expected -- it was more," said Staff Sgt. Andrew Gregory, who is representing the Army Materiel Command.

Gregory is assigned to the Army Sustainment Command at Rock Island Arsenal, Ill. He said the Army has great leaders and Soldiers, and that he is proud to represent them, his command, and his family.

The Army instills adaptability in Soldiers, he said, and that is critical during the Best Warrior Competition as well as on the battlefield.

"The Army has given us a wealth of knowledge and opportunities to adjust and overcome like we had to today, whether it is reacting to an ambush and going to a medevac casualty site," Gregory said.

At the end of the more than 12 hours of events, Soldiers said they were looking forward to the second day of the competition, which includes mystery challenges.

Although exhausted, Soldiers paused to say thanks to their families and loved ones who have helped them get this far.

Sgt. Robert Keifer represents the Military District of Washington. He is assigned to the 3d Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Va.

"I'm proud to represent the Army," he said. "I'd like to thank my wife for being supportive. My wife and kids, they are always supporting me in everything that I do. I'm just extremely grateful."

The Soldiers, who represent 12 Army commands, mastered a series of benchmarks and subordinate command competitions throughout the year to qualify. The competition is open to all active-duty, National Guard and Reserve Soldiers.

The competition runs until Nov. 22. Two winners -- the Army Soldier of the Year and the Non-Commissioned Officer of the Year -- will be announced Nov. 22.