Fort Lee, Va. (Sept. 23, 2008) -- In Iraq and Afghanistan, and indeed all over the world, U.S. Army Soldiers are employing skills that help deter potential threats and allow commanders to execute successful strategies on the battlefield.

Those skills, and a select group of Soldiers who have sought to perfect them, will take center stage during the 2008 Department of the Army Noncommissioned Officer and Soldier of the Year Best Warrior Competition at Fort Lee Sept. 28 - Oct. 3.

Twenty-four Soldiers - many who are veterans of the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan - will represent 12 different commands from throughout the Army in the competition. They will engage in a week long battle that will test not only their skills in multiple training events, but their wit, stamina and determination.

"There are no losers in this competition; they're all winners," said Command Sgt. Maj. Anthony T. Aubain, Combined Arms Support Command and Fort Lee command sergeant major and event coordinator. "These Soldiers are the best that we have in the military. It feels good to know that these guys and gals were the top performers in their units and that they were sent here to represent their units.

"When we walk with them, it's like walking with heroes."

As in years past, the "heroes" have endured and earned titles at numerous lower-level competitions in order to compete at the DA level. They include a female Soldier, a Special Forces Green Beret and several airborne-qualified contestants. They are of different races and ethnicities, hail from small towns and big cities and represent a diverse range of Army military occupational specialties.

Staff Sgt. Eric Przybylski, a finance specialist representing the National Capital Region and competing for the second time, said he is cognizant that he is competing with the very best the Army has to offer but said no Soldier is better suited to claim the title.

"Everyone who arrives at Fort Lee is capable of winning it all," he said. "There's no doubt about that. Each Soldier has prepared, studied and trained to such an extent that on a given day, they could perform to standard any of the events in the competition. This event is more of a test of who can put it all together at the right time with the fewest mistakes. It is more a test of fortitude than it is of aptitude."

Best Warrior is in its seventh year. Two years ago, the competition underwent a makeover to better reflect how the Army trained Soldiers to fight. What was more or less a board competition, one in which Soldiers donned dress uniforms and were questioned by a panel of senior Soldiers, has become something likened to an extensive training experience, one in which Soldiers are honored to compete despite the fact that there can be only two winners.

"This event is one of the most ... realistic training opportunities that's available to Soldiers," said Przybylski.

This year's competition will feature not only a barrage of panel questions, but a mixed martial arts-style tournament, range events that feature explosions, a cast of role-playing insurgents, the latest weaponry, helicopter evacuations and various other tasks Soldiers routinely practice - all strategically sequenced to create stress, a sense of urgency and a memorable training experience.

"We're challenging them with what they may face in the future," said Aubain.

The most significant challenge may come from the "Mystery Day." That's an event, scheduled for the last day of the competition, designed to test Soldiers' ability to think on their feet. Participants don't know what they'll be challenged with - only that it's something they should already know.

"They really get nervous," said Aubain, noting the reactions of contestants in years past.

Last year the Mystery Day consisted of a Humvee rollover exercise in darkness and a grueling combatives tournament. One can only guess what the Mystery Day event entails for this year's competition.

"It's going to be a good one," said Aubain with a smile. The Army's Best Warrior award is traditionally announced by the sergeant major of the Army, along with the chief of staff of the Army, at the Association of the United States Army Awards Luncheon the following week. The luncheon is scheduled Oct. 6 in Washington, D.C.