FORT BRAGG, N.C. - The United States Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, the Army's Special Operations Center of Excellence, conducted its 2016 Noncommissioned Officer and Soldier of the Year competition, 4-8 March.

Six noncommissioned officers and five soldiers competed for the top spot and entry into the United States Army Special Operations Command's competition. These warriors conquered the Army physical fitness test, a mystery event, day and night land navigation, modern Army combatives, written essay,
military-related written exam, weapons qualification and stress fire, hands-on warrior task testing and an oral board, which assessed their communication skills and military knowledge.

Sgt. 1st Class Shawn Edwards stated that he liked how the competition was spread out over a week instead of a couple of days like the ones that he did prior to SOCoE's competition.

"The written essay was the hardest for me," said Spc. Mike Hill. "It required me to write about myself, and I don't like to brag or say things about what I have done in a way that says 'way to go me'"

The youngest NCO, Cpl. Jesse Hagstrom, had some reservations in competing in the NCO portion because he knew he would be going head to head with senior NCOs, but that only made him work harder during the competition. "I saw them as more experienced and capable than myself," he said. "I assumed I would rank last in the competition for this reason, however, they made it more comfortable by accepting me as an equal during the competition".

After four and a half days of competing, one soldier and one noncommissioned officer came out on top - Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Cowin from the USAJFKSWCS NCO Academy and Spc. Nicholas DeMore from Company C, Support Battalion, 1st Special Warfare Training Group (Airborne).

"I totally thought that Sgt. 1st Class Edwards had me beat," Cowin said. "When I heard my name as the winner, I was shocked and proud that I could represent the NCO Academy well."

DeMore had a similar reaction, "When I heard my name announced for soldier of the year, I was pretty surprised. I'm older than the rest of the competitors and I had to keep pushing myself to keep up with them, it was a constant battle. So I was very stunned to realize I had won, so stunned that I didn't realize I was holding the rifle given to me upside down."

The winners will go on to compete at the USASOC Best Warrior Competition later this year.