The 597th Transportation Brigade pulled a clean sweep at the 2017 Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command (SDDC) Best Warrior Competition April 10-12 in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.
Fort Eustis, Va. based Soldiers, Sgt. Luis Cruzsanchez and Pfc. Robert Nelson, representing the 597th Transportation Brigade, 833rd Transportation Battalion and 688th Rapid Port Opening Element, outlasted fellow SDDC competitors to emerge as winners for the Noncommissioned Officer and Soldier categories, respectively.
The Soldiers were tested in a multitude of physically and mentally draining events over a span of three days including an Army Physical Fitness Test, obstacle course, land navigation, written exam, qualification range, warrior skills, 12-mile road march and question-and-answer board.
"The process hurts," said Nelson. "I'm exhausted. There's a lot that's put into it. Behind the scenes, there's a lot of physical training. It's a lot of work, but I'm moving on to the third level of competition. I got a lot more training and studying to do to prepare for the next level."
For Cruzsanchez, runner-up in last year's competition, it was the culmination of getting over the hump he approached in 2016.
"I'm happy to actually win it this year," said Cruzsanchez. "This year, it was way harder than last year and it pushed me."
Despite having just been named winners at the SDDC level, both competitors were already looking forward to what they need to do at the AMC level, where the competition will intensify.
"It told me where I am and where I need to be so I'm going to go back -- keep studying and working out so I can be ready at the next level. It will take practice," said Cruzsanchez.
The final day started with a 12-mile road march at 3 a.m., followed immediately by a question-and-answer board, which made for a rough "1-2 punch."
"The mock board is something I need to get into so I'm not nervous sitting in front of a group of people," said Nelson. After doing a 12-mile ruck march, you sit in front of a bunch of command sergeant majors, it's like the scariest thing in the world to you as someone just coming out of basic training."
Be that as it may, 597th Command Sgt. Maj. Jerome Smalls was impressed with his Soldiers' performance at the SDDC BWC.
"I think it was sheer effort from both competitors," Smalls said. "They worked a lot back at home station (Fort Eustis) prior to getting out here to get set for this competition. We knew it would be tough. We tried to prep the battlefield, but they had to actually go out and do it. I'm very proud of those two young men and I'm looking forward to see what they'll do at the AMC competition."
The competition, while structured, also had a few deliberate twists and turns to test how the Soldiers would react under pressure.
"I just tried to live in the moment," said Nelson, who credited the 597th with putting him in a position to flourish during the competition.
"I feel proud that my unit put so much faith in me," Nelson said. I was given all the resources I need. I appreciate everything 597th has given me so I could be prepared for this. It gave me something to work toward."
Knowing they had a chance to sweep the competition, Nelson and Cruzsanchez estimated they were in a close battle with their competition and pushed each other to the top.
"We were trying to see where we were at in the standings," Nelson said. "Like they (SDDC cadre) said, it was down to the decimal, basically."
Now that it's over, they will exhale for a moment before their minds wander back to the AMC competition in July.
"I'm just grateful, said Cruzsanchez. "I'm thinking of my wife and family right now."