CAMP ATTERBURY, Ind. -- A crisp chill in the air snapped Soldiers awake as they inventoried their military equipment in preparation for the next three days of physical and mental challenges.

One at a time, they loaded themselves and their bulging rucksacks into a van headed for the opening event of the First Army Division East first-quarter 2017 Best Warrior Competition, which began Sept. 27.

As in similar competitions, the Soldiers pushed themselves to their limits during a series of events including evaluating a casualty, shooting targets while under stress, completing a 12-mile ruck march and demonstrating their mental acuity before a board of sergeants major.

"I'm extremely tired, mentally drained," said Sgt. 1st Class Darrius Perry, an all-source intelligence observer coach/trainer with the 2-315th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 174th Infantry Brigade at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey.

"The events are definitely physically demanding," Perry added.

He said pushing himself to his physical limits hones his skills as a senior leader. "As an NCO, you always want to stay sharp; you always want to stay in the game and stay in the fight."

Events such as the Best Warrior Competition also show others that OC/Ts live the standards to which they hold the Soldiers they train, said Master Sgt. Donald Spock, operations noncommissioned officer in charge for the 157th Infantry Brigade at Camp Atterbury.

"We are supposed to be the cream of the crop of the Army that goes out and trains these units what they need to do, what they need to look like, act like, be like, technical and tactical expertise [they need to have]," Spock said.

Although all the Best Warrior competitors exceeded Army standards, only one could walk away as the winner. After three days of close competition, Sgt. 1st Class David Renteria, communications noncommissioned officer in charge for the 1-335th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 157th Infantry Brigade, stood above the rest.

"I'm happy that I was able to win," Renteria said, adding that it felt good to have the effort and hard work he put in pay off.

But, he said, winning isn't everything.

"At the end of the day, even if you don't win, I believe you still have something to gain," he said, "whether it be knowledge, experience, building relationships with other individuals -- you have something to gain from it."

Renteria said the experience he gained was his biggest takeaway.

"Some of the challenges or objectives we had weren't familiar to me. Once I accomplished them, I felt a lot more confident."

With an overseas duty assignment looming, Renteria will not be able to compete at the next level. He said he will encourage others at his current and new units to compete in the future.

Part of being a Soldier includes things like the Best Warrior Competition and challenging yourself to "be all you can be," Renteria said.

"You get out here, you give it your best and [you'll] be surprised what you accomplish when you really put your mind to it," he said.

First Army Division East plans to hold three more quarterly competitions this fiscal year.

Winners will move on to the First Army competition next summer, and the Soldier and NCO winners there will go to the U.S. Forces Command competition. Those winners will be eligible to advance to next year's all-Army competition.