Commanding General Maj. Gen. Kurt J. Ryan announced the winners of the Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command's 2017 Best Warrior Competition.

U.S. Army Sgt. Luis Cruz and Pfc. Robert Nelson, both from the 597th Transportation Brigade, have earned the titles of SDDC NCO and Soldier of the Year.

SDDC brought its top Surface Warriors to Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri April 10-12 for a series of grueling mental and physical challenges to determine who was the best in the command.

Competitors from each of SDDC's five active duty brigades travelled from the far reaches of the globe to represent their units, in hopes of representing the command in the Army Materiel Command competition held this coming July. Winners of the AMC competition will go on to compete at the Army-level.

"This year's competition was extremely close. After three days of competition, it came down to the difference of decimal points in their scores," said SDDC Senior Enlisted Leader Cmd. Sgt. Maj. Kevin McKeller.

The first day of competition saw competitors perform the Army Physical Fitness Test, the Physical Endurance Course, and the famous Ft. Leonard Wood Land Navigation Course. If that wasn't enough, competitors were then given a written exam to test their mental acuity after more than 12 hours of demanding physical activity.

During the second day, the competitors arose before the sun to zero and qualify with their U.S. Army M-4 rifles. Upon completion of their qualification rounds, the Surface Warriors performed a simulated medevac mission by carrying two litter patients to a casualty collection point more than a mile from the range. Once at the CCP, the next test was to perform Army Warrior Tasks/Battle Drills. To conclude this 12 hour day, the Soldiers once again took a written exam, testing their Soldier skills and knowledge of U.S. Army history.

The third day began with a 3 a.m. wake-up for a 20-kilometer ruck march, with most of the competitors completing the event before sunrise. Once finished, they were ushered one-by-one into the Question and Answer Board, which was led by the SDDC command sergeant major and the five brigade enlisted leaders.

"We changed around the board this year so that the Soldiers would be physically exhausted," said McKeller, "They came into the board still feeling the effects of the ruck march."

Thirty minutes after the last board was completed, the NCO and Soldier winners were announced during an awards ceremony luncheon that concluded the three-days of arduous physical and mental challenges.

"This year was much harder than last year," said Cruz, who was a runner up in the 2016 competition.

For the first time in a few years, both competitors came from the same unit. They offered a reason for their success.

"We pushed each other every day and we would calculate each other's points to see where we stood amongst our competitors," said Nelson.

During the awards ceremony, McKeller presented both Cruz and Nelson with U.S. Army Commendation Medals and 2017 SDDC Best Warrior Award trophies.