FORT LEWIS, Wash. - The best of the best...not only the title of a movie but it also defines the top paralegal specialist during the Fort Lewis Paralegal of the Year competition January 21.

"The event is a culmination of past Soldier and NCO of the quarter boards," said Sgt. Maj. Joseph P. Lister, I Corps Command paralegal non-commissioned officer and NCO in charge of the event. "It is also a test of Soldier skills as well as legal knowledge, to see who's physically and mentally tough, a chance for the best to rise to the top."

Starting the day off at 5 a.m. in the midst of frozen fog, seven Soldiers were ready and waiting as the competition consisted of a standard Army Physical Fitness Test, a 50-meter swim meet, followed by four skill level 1 Warrior task testing stations, a 27D MOS examination, an M16 weapon qualification and a four mile road march utilizing a 35-pound ruck sack.

Keeping with the pace of the day, the Soldiers then donned Class A's and made an appearance before a standard board utilizing a promotion board format.

"A little competition doesn't hurt," said event coordinator Staff Sgt. Rick Tabuyo, 42nd Military Police Brigade paralegal. "Events like this help build unit cohesion and morale and are a great way to bring all the paralegals that are scattered across Fort Lewis together."

"Soldier first" is what many thought of the competition.

"We have to be able to maintain our Soldier skills all the while performing our jobs as paralegals," said participant Sgt. Nathan Hogan, 1st Special Forces Group. The fact that we are out here is testament of what we do on a daily basis.

For others, the competition has been a long awaited event.

Staff Sgt. Rickey Wyrick, 5th Brigade, credits his joining the JAG Corps to Sgt. Michael Merila, a paralegal who was killed Feb. 16, 2004 in Talifar, Iraq, when his convoy was hit by an improvised explosive device.

"I was in the middle of researching the paralegal MOS when Sgt. Merila died," said Wyrick during his board appearance. "Knowing what he has done and sacrificed made me want to join the JAG Corps and becoming the Paralegal of the Year is what I have been working so hard for."

After a long, hard day, the competition concluded at 6 p.m. The participants were left in limbo as to who won, as the winners would not be announced untill the next day.

Pfc. Keagan Geer, 17th Fires Brigade, was named Paralegal Soldier of the Year and Staff Sgt. Rickey Wyrick, 5th Bde., was named Paralegal NCO of the Year.

In addition to their titles, the winners also received Certificates of Appreciation signed by Lt. Gen. Scott C. Black, the Judge Advocates General of the Army and Army Commendation Medals.

Sergeant David House is assigned to 17th Public Affairs Detachment. This article appeared in Fort Lewis' Northwest Guardian.