FORT HOOD, Texas -- The 166th Aviation Brigade held the first Sergeant Audie Murphy Club selection board March 22 for Division West's inaugural Sergeant Audie Murphy Award.

When Division West's Command Sgt. Maj. Patrick K. Akuna Jr. proposed the idea of a SAMC selection board four months ago, 166th's Command Sgt. Maj. Glen Vela jumped at the opportunity.

Audie Murphy was a decorated Soldier who grew through the Army's enlisted, NCO, and officer during World War II, earning every award available including the Medal of Honor; he is the most decorated Soldier ever.

Club membership distinction is awarded to Sergeants through Sergeants First Class annually. Nominations and boards begin at the battalion level, with all qualified Soldiers proceeding to their brigade boards.

"It's a very prestigious club," explained Vela, "It epitomizes the total Soldier; they made this as a model to be like Audie Murphy."

Being a member of the Sgt. Audie Murphy Club is an enormous honor recognized across the NCO Corps. "Being inducted into the SAMC distinguishes you from amongst your peers; the best of the best NCOs," said Sgt. 1st Class Randall Copiskey, who earned his SAMC membership during 2011, and one of two boards members who are SAMC inductees.

"As an NCO, when you aspire to be the best you can be, a common goal is to get the SAMA and be part of the club," continued Copiskey, a cavalry scout and Observer-Coach/Trainer with 1st Battalion (Training Support), 337th Aviation Regiment. "It's prestigious and [for] the cream of the crop."

Once NCOs become members of the SAMC, they're expected to participate with the club; there is an SAMC on every Army installation, worldwide. "Getting it is only half the commitment," explained Copiskey, "Ok, you got the award but now what are you going to do with it? You [have to] continue the legacy and mentor others to help attain this achievement."

Community outreach is an important part of being a SAMC member. "They do a lot of important details -- a lot of veterans events," said Copiskey. "The Adopt-A-School program is a way the installation club gives back; the (Fort Hood SAMC) sponsors the Audie Murphy Middle School."

Every candidate is assigned a sponsor who helps prepare, teach, and support the candidates. Sponsors are just as much responsible for their candidate's success or failure and are tested and questioned almost as rigorously by members of the board.

One of the battalion Command Sergeants Major, Command Sgt. Maj. Glenn Rodney of 2nd Battalion (Training Support), 291st Aviation Regiment said, "This is my first opportunity to sit in on a SAMC board. It's a rewarding and educational experience to see the board process from inception, to the preparation for the NCOs, to the board."

Preparation for the board was intense. As the only brigade in the division that will send members for the division's selection board, the standard was set very high. Candidates endured almost an hour-long inquiry on every subject from counseling a new Soldier, to the Army Song, to the seven war fighting functions, to MOS specific questions, to doctrine and tactics.

"It is a 'Go, No-Go' process -- there is not one winner and it's not a competition; if you're qualified and perform well, you continue to the next level," explained Master Sgt. Laurence Minor, a sponsor for two NCOs from 1st Battalion (Training Support), 291st Aviation Regiment.

"We had study sessions every Thursday. We visited the Army Community Service programs including Child Youth Services, Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers, the sponsorship program," said Sgt. 1st Class Luke Steele, a candidate and Unit Liaison Officer for 1-291st TSBn.

Additionally, candidates had to build a leader book, write a 400-plus word essay on one of five topics provided, provide a valid physical fitness test score and weapons qualification, as well as take a written test of 60 questions.

"This will be the hardest board you will ever experience. Everything is a test," Vela said, forewarning the candidates and their sponsors. One-by-one the sponsors introduced their candidate, followed by a rigorous bevy of questions from each of the six board members made up of various battalion Command Sergeants Major, Vela, and Copiskey.

Of the five candidates, three were selected to move on to the division board to be held the last week of March 2014. The Soldiers moving forward from 166th Aviation Brigade are Sgt. 1st Class Stephanie Rodriguez, of Headquarters and Headquarters Company; Sgt. 1st Class David Barnes, of 1st Battalion (Training Support), 351st Aviation Regiment; and Sgt. 1st Class Luke Steele of 1st Battalion (Training Support), 291st Aviation Regiment.

The 166th Aviation Brigade's mission is to train and validate National Guard and Reserve aviation units, including brigade, battalion, company, and theater- to unit-level maintenance formations. The four training battalions concentrate on attack, lift, heavy lift, and MEDEVAC post-mobilization training as part of First Army Division West. The brigade also has two Reserve Component battalions tasked to conduct Personnel Recovery Training.