FORT A.P. HILL, VA - Twenty-eight Soldiers from all over the country and the world competed in a grueling competition that named the National Capital Region Noncommissioned Officer and Soldier of the Year.First, all the Soldiers competed in their individual units. Once the unit winners were announced, the NCR winners were determined by using the highest scores from all the unit winners.Sgt. David C. Browne and Pfc. Matthew Phillips won the Military District of Washington NCO and Soldier of the Year competition.Browne and Phillips won top honors in The Old Guard competition in June and trained hard to be named MDW's best."I trained really hard for The Old Guard competition, and knew I had to step it up to win this (competition)," said Browne, a member of 3rd Platoon firing party in Company E, 4th Battalion. "The competition wasn't as physical as I thought it was going to be, but I had to make sure I was physically and mentally tough."The first event was the Army Physical Fitness Test that measures Soldiers' ability to do push-ups, sit-ups and 2-mile run.Despite the rain, both Old Guard Soldiers excelled in the APFT, with Browne finishing with an impressive score of over 300 and Phillips finishing with over 290 points."I did really well on the APFT because of all the training I did with Sgt. Browne and some of the other NCOs. I knew I had to stand out from the rest of the competitors, and the APFT was a good way to do that," said Phillips, a member of the Presidential Salute Gun Battery, HHC Company, 1st Battalion.Following the APFT, the Soldiers had to get ready for the NCR board. The board lets command sergeants major evaluate the individual Soldier in appearance, military bearing and basic Army knowledge.The board members consisted of five command sergeants major from all of the competing units."I was really confident going into the board. All of the studying really paid off," Browne said."The studying prepared me for the worst," echoed Phillips. "I did awesome on the board and felt great after being dismissed because I knew I only missed one or two questions."After the board, the "mystery event" took place. This event is what separated many of the contenders.The competitors had to go into a darkened room with a disassembled M240, M249, M4 and M9. From there, they had 12 minutes to reassemble the weapons and perform a functions check on each."It was a pretty surprising mystery event. I trained for it, but it was really difficult and I didn't complete all four. Maybe a little more time," Browne said.Despite not having completed the mystery event, Browne still maintained his motivation and drive to win."I wasn't going to let one event get me down," he said.Phillips suffered a similar result in the mystery event, but said he was still confident in his abilities to succeed.The next day of the competition brought on a whole new set of challenges: Soldiers had to zero their M4, qualify with it, and complete a reflexive fire drill.Phillips said he missed a few easy targets in the qualification assessment, but made up for it on his reflexive firing. Browne did well in both events.After a long day at the range, the competitors were tasked with finding five points in the land navigation course."The course was one of the hardest I have been on and the most unforgiving," Browne said. Despite the difficulty of the course, Browne and Phillips found most of their points."The course ended up being a lot of fun. I was so close to one point, I ended up only a few meters away, but the brush was so thick I couldn't even see it," said Phillips.The next day, the competition went to the air, as the competitors were airlifted by UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters from Wilcox Camp to "Objective Bravo." Objective Bravo was a mock village complete with dwellings similar to those currently in Iraq.The competitors were given an operation order and were tasked as squads to complete the mission within the objective.As the Blackhawk landed, each squad moved to the village to provide support to a company of Soldiers pinned down in the area. Once the squad reached the company, they discovered many of them were "wounded" with fake blood and various injuries. The squad's assignment was to assess the casualties and provide cover."It was very realistic. I haven't been to Iraq, but that's what a lot of the cadre said it is really like. There is a lot going on with villagers and we stepped in to take control of the situation," Phillips said.After finishing up with the casualties, the squad forged ahead into the village where they were met with opposing and friendly forces, media and even encountered a terrorist that led them to a weapons cache.Other tasks included searching a vehicle, manning an M240 to provide security after securing a building and interacting with media.Upon completion of all the tasks in the village, the competitors took a short break for lunch and hopped in a Light Medium Tactical Vehicle to, what they thought, was Wilcox Camp.
"As we were driving, we came up on something suspicious. It looked like an Improvised Explosive Device, so we called it in," Browne said.The IED was fake and placed by the cadre to test the Soldiers' awareness. After finding the IED, the competitors then had to move tactically to the next checkpoint where they were picked up and brought back to camp.With the final mission completed, all of the scores were added up and the winners were announced the next day following a barbecue for the competitors, cadre and sponsors."I knew we were going to win the MDW award. I was a little disappointed about not winning the NCR Soldier of the Year, but I know I tried my best," Phillips said.Browne was also shocked, but proud of his achievement."The competition was close. There were some great NCOs out here and I actually learned a lot," said Browne.Both competitors were thankful for their chain of command, Command Sgt. Maj. Russell McCray and everyone that helped in making the MDW NCO/Soldier of the Year Competition a success.