During the frigid temperatures of an early spring morning, as he rubbed his hands together and struggled to protect them from a painful, stinging frostbite, Staff Sgt. Victor Munoz couldn't help but wonder what he had signed up for.
Munoz, a competitor in the annual U.S. Army Public Health Command Best Warrior Competition from Public Health Command Region- Europe, was reading a manual and doing his best to reassemble a machine gun that he had never seen before.
His efforts eventually paid off when he, along with Spc. Stephen Murray of the USAPHC Headquarters and Headquarters Company, were named as the USAPHC Best Warriors during an April 18 award ceremony at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md.
Munoz was recognized as the Non-Commissioned Officer of the Year and Murray was named as the Soldier of the Year.
The three-day competition, which featured 12 of the best Soldiers and NCOs in the USAPHC, evaluated the competitors on multiple Soldier skills including firing weapons, day and night land navigation, physical fitness, a written test and even appearing before a panel of senior enlisted personnel who questioned the Soldiers on all aspects of military service.
"There are hundreds of tasks any Soldier should be able to perform, and this competition evaluates their ability to be versatile," said Master Sgt. Jason Stillwell, who served as the key facilitator for the event.
Stillwell said the Soldiers are not aware of what tasks they will be asked to perform, and an aim of this year's event was to challenge the Soldiers. Some of the tasks that proved to be the most demanding included assembly and disassembly of a machine gun and demonstrating proper procedures for U.S. military detainee operations.
Although the Soldier tasks were difficult to perform, it was the mental tasks required during the panel that gave Murray the most trouble.
"We received tough questions that really challenged us," said Murray. "Although I work at Public Health Command every day, I had sweat beading down my back as I tried to remember the command structure of the organization," said Murray. Despite his struggle, Murray was elated to be a USAPHC winner.
He and Munoz will represent USAPHC at the Army Medical Command Best Warrior Competition, which is scheduled to be held in May 2014 in San Antonio, Texas.
Maj. Gen. Dean G. Sienko, USAPHC commander, and USAPHC Command Sgt. Maj. Paul Ramos, presented certificates of recognition to each of the competitors during the closing award ceremony.
As the keynote speaker for the event, Sienko praised the Soldiers for their superior skills.
"Only 23 percent of Americans qualify for military service, and because you are best warriors, you represent the finest people our nation has to offer," said Sienko. "I congratulate you on reaching this significant milestone."
Although Sienko commended the troops for their tremendous accomplishment, he said their jobs were incomplete. He emphasized the need for the warriors to grow those around them.
Borrowing from the words of Dr. Edward Tick, author of the book "The War in the Soul," Sienko challenged the best warriors to be servants. He encouraged them to be devoted to causes more important than themselves and to place the needs of others before their own.
"Becoming a best warrior is really an achievement of character," said Sienko. "It's important to take those you lead, and make them better."
Other competitors during the event included Sgt. Eric Jimenez, HHC; Spc. Cristopher Goodman, PHCR-Europe; Sgt. Miguel Velez and Spc. Jason Dickerson, PHCR-North; Sgt. Kil Lee and Spc. Bocovo Kokou, PHCR-Pacific; Staff Sgt. Nickolaus Kersting and Spc. Matthew Black, PHCR-South and Sgt. Dominque Lee and Spc. Olayori Ogunnaike, PHCR-West.
Although the competition was tough, and the tasks were grueling, Munoz said he wouldn't trade the experience for anything in the world.
"I encourage other Soldiers to compete in the Best Warrior Competition," said Munoz. "Your skills are really put to the test, but only good comes out of it."