SAN ANTONIO - Amidst sweat, smoke grenades and a four-day rush of adrenaline, four Soldiers and four noncommissioned officers, representing each of U.S. Army Installation Management Command's four regions, tested their metal and resilience in hopes of winning the Best Warrior Competition and earning the title of IMCOM Soldier or NCO of the Year.

"Inside the heart of every one of these Soldiers, beats the heart of a warrior," IMCOM's senior enlisted advisor, Command Sgt. Maj. Jeffrey Hartless said.

The BWC is their chance to show it, he said, emphasizing its importance to both individuals and to the Army as a whole.

"It builds confidence in the Soldiers," Hartless said, "and helps them become better whether they win or lose. This is what builds leaders."

The 2014 competitors included Cpl. Ryan Perea, U.S. Army Garrison Fort Bragg, IMCOM Atlantic Region Soldier of the Year and Sgt. Carol Sheffield, U.S. Army Garrison Fort Campbell, IMCOM Atlantic Region NCO of the Year; Spc. William Rogers, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, IMCOM Central Region Soldier of the Year and Sgt. Andres Martinez, U.S. Army Garrison Fort Hood, IMCOM Central Region NCO of the Year; Pvt. Donovan Wegner, U.S. Army Garrison Red Cloud, IMCOM Pacific Region Soldier of the Year and Sgt. Jacob Durski, U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan, IMCOM Pacific NCO of the Year; Spc. Jeromy Sisk, U.S. Army Garrison Ansbach, IMCOM Europe Soldier of the Year and Staff Sgt. Jair Cranmore, U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart, IMCOM Europe NCO of the Year.

Each participant competed in three days of field events held in tandem with Best Warrior competitors from U.S. Army North, U.S. Army South, Southern Regional Medical Command and U.S. Army Medical Department Center and School at Joint Base San Antonio-Camp Bullis, followed by a board review - an IMCOM sergeants major panel who scrutinized each NCO and Soldier's record, military bearing, appearance, knowledge of Army history, regulation and current events.

All eight competitors took the stage in an awards ceremony presided over by Brig. Gen. Jason Evans, IMCOM's deputy commanding general of operations, Friday. There, Cpl. Ryan Perea and Sgt. Jacob Durski were announced as IMCOM's Soldier and NCO of the Year, respectively, with Sgt. Andres Martinez and Pvt. Donovan Wegner named the runners up.

The culmination of the winners' efforts is the Dept. of the Army level competition which takes place at U.S. Army Garrison Fort Belvoir in October. Both are ready and enthusiastic to represent their command.

"My sponsor and I trained vigorously for this event. We used everything Fort Bragg had to offer, focusing on obstacles and ruck marching ... I think I've taken 11 PT tests in six months," Perea said. "I'm hungry, so when I see an opportunity, I take it."

Perea said that he'll keep his study notes stuck to his car's dashboard and continue his training program, just "ramp it up over the summer."

For Durski, being named IMCOM's NCO of the Year is a confirmation of his readiness.

"For me, it gave me a good assessment of what I can do and where I need to go from here," Durski said. "This is the second time I've been here. A couple years ago, I was here and missed by just a few points. I tried not to show it, but it was a disappointment. This time, I've pushed myself to the brink to show that I have the heart, motivation and determination to be the best."

From weapons qualification and obstacle course to twenty plus warrior tasks and a grueling 12 mile road march in full tactical gear, (weighing more than 60 lbs. including weapon, helmet, vest, 35 lb. pack and Interceptor Body Armor) competition was close said Hartless.

"That's the beauty of America's Army-on any given day, at any given time, any one of these Soldiers could be the best warrior," said Hartless. "Everyone's got a shot [at the Dept. of the Army level title] and IMCOM is no different. IMCOM only has 1,500 Soldiers worldwide, and it's just truly amazing to see them compete at each region and move forward. It's great to be here and compete alongside the other commands represented -Army North, Army South ... MEDCOM. It increases the challenge and builds camaraderie, too," he said.


Win or lose, undoubtedly these eight competitors departed different men and women, each learning something more about themselves. For Spc. William Rogers, a chaplain's assistant from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, this was about proving that he's Army Strong.

"I was a heavy-set person, weighing around 300 lbs. at one time," Rogers said. "I'm here to prove to myself that I'm worthy of competing with the best of the best. I literally ran my butt off to join the Army. Since January, I quit smoking, picked up cross-fit, put down the honey buns and Ho-Ho's and dropped 25 lbs. more to get here."

Days were long under the blazing Texas sun and took a toll on the competitors as the events grew more challenging.

"It's tried me mentally and physically. You just have to keep going and be resilient. The warrior in me really came out in the march," said Sgt. Carol Sheffield, vice president of Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers at U.S. Army Garrison Fort Campbell. "During the first six miles, I fell far behind. It took me a long time to reach that half-way point, but when I did, something in me clicked. I just picked it up to a 14-15 minute pace. I started to run and motivation really kicked in when I caught up to people at the nine mile mark. I passed five people before I hit the finish line and nothing makes me more proud than to say that I completed it and I wasn't last," Sheffield recalled.

Nineteen-year-old Wegner perhaps sums up his Best Warrior Competition experience as a test of will.

"You have to give everything your best, never quit," Wegner said. "The competition brought me some great training and experience. Now that I know what I need to work on, it'll both help my career and make me 10 times more prepared for the next time around. What matters most here is how much heart you have and how much you want it."