FORT HUACHUCA, Arizona (June 2, 2015) -- From around the globe, Soldiers assigned to theater signal commands under the Network Enterprise Technology Command arrived to compete in NETCOM's Best Warrior Competition. Ten Soldiers representing the best of the commands and headquarters were physically and mentally tested as soon as they arrived.
In the end, Spc. Samuel Cameron, an information technology specialist representing the 160th Signal Brigade, was named Soldier of the Year, and Sgt. Bryan Thomas, a video teleconference technician representing the 5th Signal Command, was named Noncommissioned Officer of the Year.
Arriving the afternoon and evening of May 29, the Soldiers were given only enough time to settle into their rooms and start preparing for the next day. Saturday morning, they were hitting the obstacle course for their first event.
"The obstacle course was pretty fun and challenging, except for the rope climb at the end after we did everything," said Spc. Justin Fleming, representing the NETCOM Headquarters. "That last part was pretty tough."
"It was an exciting event to start the day and the competition," said Spc. Maria Perez, representing the 311th Signal Command (Theater). "The parts where we low and high crawl are things we trained for. Others were really challenging and required a lot of upper body strength."
After finishing their first event, they were greeted briefly by Command Sgt. Maj. Stephon Watson and Maj. Gen. John Morrison Jr., NETCOM's command sergeant major and commanding general. From there, it was immediately into the written exam and essay.
Participants were tested on their knowledge on military history, regulations and a variety of other subjects. The essay subject -- fostering awareness, understanding and tolerance of same-sex marriages in the service -- gave the competitors a relevant and tough subject to write about.
That evening, the Soldiers were out in the Arizona desert finding points in the dark during night orienteering. It was a tough evening for Perez, dislocating her shoulder when she fell down a short hill. After getting her shoulder re-set, she stuck it out for the rest of the competition.
"The courage to keep going, and the encouragement from my peers and sponsors kept me going," Perez said.
Very little rest followed the end of the nighttime event, as the physical fitness test in modified uniform followed at 5 a.m. Sunday. It would be a tough event for some, unaccustomed to the elevation, lack of humidity and warm temperatures -- even at that early hour. After the weigh-in, it was onto the next task.
With little time to rest, the Soldiers were back out on the post's training areas conducting land navigation, map reading and Global Positioning System operations. Add the blazing sun and warm temperatures, the Soldiers' endurance and fitness was pushed to their limits.
The Mystery Task surprised the competitors in the Soldier category -- running a squad PT formation in the hallways of Greely Hall, and marching them to locations in the building. For those in the NCO competition, they were tested on running a firing range at a separate location.
Monday morning, the Soldiers were out early to conduct a 12-mile ruck march with 35-pound ruck sacks and full gear… and it was timed. At the finish line, they were immediately ushered to the range for M-16 rifle qualification. Without a break, the competitors were taken to Barnes Field House and thrown into the pool for combat water testing.
After a short break, it was into the ring for combatives.
"It was a very physically demanding day," said Spc. Donald Mayville, representing the 7th Signal Command (Theater) and who was selected as the runner-up in the Soldier category. "I liked it, and didn't like it. It forced us to push ourselves further than we thought we could. When we got to the combatives, we were just pushing ourselves even farther."
"Combatives was fun because it's one of my favorite events," said Sgt. Jeramy LaBoy, representing the 160th Signal Brigade and who was selected as the runner-up in the NCO category. "It was a little more difficult after everything else that day."
The final day of the competition was the "easy" day for the competitors. All faced the Command Sergeant Major Board in their Army Service Uniforms; and after facing movements and a close-up inspection of their uniforms, the competitors were grilled in their knowledge of all things Army, current events and asked to defend their points of view from their essay.
At the ceremony that afternoon, Cameron and Thomas were recognized as the top competitors.
"I'm exhausted but very excited," Thomas said. "I'm ready to hit the ground running. The next level of competition is going to be high, and I have to be prepared."
"This has definitely been a rewarding experience," Cameron said. "Interacting with all the competitors has helped me improve both my social and professional skills. I am very happy."
Both Thomas and Cameron will represent NETCOM at the U.S. Army Forces Command Best Warrior Competition at Fort Bragg later this year.