Staff Sgt. Robert Keifer, a platoon sergeant at Headquarters Research and Development Detachment, Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, earned the title of 2016 U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command noncommissioned officer of the year.

A native of Navarre, Fla., Keifer joined the Army in October 2007 as a 11B infantryman and previously served with the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, N.Y., and Fort Polk, La., the 3rd Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) at Fort Myer, Va., and made two deployments to Afghanistan before arriving at Natick.

Keifer used his experience at The Old Guard to help prepare him for the NCO of the Year competition.

"There were a lot of long hours and hard work while serving at The Old Guard," said Keifer. "There is a lot of attention to detail, a lot of high-profile ceremonies that I participated in -- such as the Presidential Inauguration, retirements of secretaries of Defense and general officer retirements. It was very eventful, and I learned a lot while I was there that translates to what I am doing today."

Preparation for the NCO of the Year competition is both physical and mental.

"I started going hard with my (physical training) by going to the gym every day and sometimes multiple times a day," said Keifer. "(U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine) was very helpful. They would do training events (and) extended an invite to our detachment, which I gladly accepted to prepare for the competition."

After winning the RDECOM competition, Keifer competed at the Army Materiel Command NCO of the Year competition.

"I just focused on one thing at a time at the AMC competition," said Keifer. "The old saying 'slow is smooth and smooth is fast' helps you to focus on what you are doing, pay attention to detail and remember your training and go from there."

Keifer, who previously earned NCO of the Year at The Old Guard, said the land navigation was the toughest part of the AMC competition.

"The entire competition was very challenging," Keifer said. "You were working on very little sleep, little time to eat and it made conditions tough, but the toughest part was the land navigation.

"(On) this particular course, the terrain was very challenging. I don't think anyone had been walking through it for a long time because the vegetation was so thick and it was very hard to walk through."

Keifer finished second in the AMC NCO of the Year competition and scored highest on the M-4 Carbine qualification.

He credited some of his mentors who helped him throughout his career.