About 26 Soldiers' names were originally submitted for the 597th Transportation Brigade's 2017 Best Warrior Competition.
The numbers dropped steadily as Soldiers from the brigade's 833rd (Fort Eustis, Virginia), 841st (Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina), and 842nd (Beaumont, Texas) Transportation Battalions put their skills, endurance, and resolve to the test Feb. 28 to March 2 at Fort Eustis to determine this year's brigade-level Best Warrior Competition winners.
Seven Soldiers remained eligible on the final day and after the Soldiers were put through the ringer for three days, 597th Command Sgt. Maj. Jerome Smalls announced that 688th Rapid Port Opening Element/833rd's Sgt. Luis Cruzsanchez, senior forklift operator, and Pvt. Robert Nelson, petroleum supply specialist, were this year's NCO and Soldier BWC winners, and will represent 597th at the Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command BWC competition, slated to begin April 9.
"It feels good. I'm ready to go on to the next level and win it," said Cruzsanchez after finding out he won. "It was hard at this level and I know it's going to get harder, but it was a good experience."
Cruzsanchez said he concentrated on the physical aspect at the brigade level and that he will emphasize the mental side in preparation for the SDDC competition.
Nelson said the brigade competition was a challenge.
"I'm not going to lie, it was pretty tedious," he said after the competition. "Right now it's only been three days, but it pushed me to the point where I can barely walk. I'm tired. I'm physically spent. This has been a pretty intriguing competition."
After trying to out-do each other for three days, bonds were born between Soldiers in a brigade which is dispersed in multiple locations.
"I've met a lot of good people within the brigade that I'll have friendships with forever," Nelson said. "I wouldn't give up this experience for anything."
He'll have the opportunity to compete again, establish more relationships, and have another great experience at the SDDC level.
While only a few could be dubbed a winner, the importance of the process was emphasized by the brigade CSM.
"Great showing for the entire competition," Smalls said, addressing the final seven competitors. "There could only be one winner for the NCO and one winner for the Soldier."
Smalls' message was similar during the competition as he offered advice on what it takes to win the BWC and thrive as a Soldier.
"Stay focused, only the strong survive," said Smalls following the obstacle course event March 1.
Other BWC events included an Army Physical Fitness Test, M4 qualification, Engagement Skills Training 2000, day and night land navigation, essay, MOUT site/WBTDs, grenade range, surprise media engagement, ruck march, water survival and a board.
Not everyone could shine in every event, however 842nd Sgt. Maj. Robert Moore emphasized the importance of using the BWC as a learning experience.
"You all need to maintain the warrior spirit that got you this far," Moore said. You were the best your organization presented. "I commend you all for making it this far."
Smalls handed out certificates and coins to the final seven competitors after the winners were announced and congratulated and rewarded them for their performance during the BWC.
"Great job," Smalls said. "I know you all tired and need some rest. You've got the rest of the day off."