JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii-Soldiers assigned to the 94th Army Air and Missile Defense Command competed, April 23 to 27, to be named the 94th AAMDC's Soldier and Noncommissioned Officer of the Year, during a ceremony, April 28, 2017, at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii.

The Soldiers, four junior enlisted and four NCOs, were the best of the best selected via similar, smaller scaled competitions at their unit's level.

"It is very clear that your unit's sent their best to represent them," said Command Sgt. Major. John W. Foley, the command sergeant major of the 94th AAMDC. "This was a mentally and physically challenging competition but every single one of you competitors came, and regardless of any aches and pains, gave it your all."

Days for the competitors consistently began prior to sunrise and ended with them retiring physically and mentally exhausted.

"The competition was put together really well," said Sgt. Mitchell Ratner, a sensor platoon section leader with Echo Battery, Task Force Talon, 94th AAMDC, from Las Vegas. "The pace was outstanding. It never gave you time to really take a breath, so it forced you to just keeping pushing through whatever doubts or pain you had."

During the four-day competition the Soldiers were asked to navigate 17 physically and mentally challenging tasks such as an Army Physical Fitness Test, completing a timed 12-mile road march, drill and ceremony, weapons qualifications, and land navigation.

Each competitor found elements of the competition that were personally challenging and ultimately pushed their limits of resilience as a well-rounded Soldier.

"The most nerve wrecking for me was the land navigation," said Sgt. Andrew Conley, a sensor manager team leader with the 14th Missile Defense Battery, 94th AAMDC, and the 94th AAMDC NCO of the Year from Cocoa Beach, Fla. "It had been three years since I had been out on a course. I basically had to relearn land navigation while I was out there."

"The most difficult element for me was the board," said Spc. Christopher Turchio, a small arms repair specialist with 1st Battalion, 1st Air Defense Artillery, the 94th AAMDC Soldier of the Year, and native of Jamesburg, N.J. "They tell you what subjects to prepare for but you don't know what to really expect. The board members could ask you something completely not on the [memorandum of information] or try to distract you. It is that level of uncertainty that really messes with my head."

Though the days were long and strenuous, the competitors remembered to embrace the experience and enjoy the opportunity.

"The element I enjoyed the most was probably the obstacle course," said Turchio "I was physically drained, very drained ... but obstacle courses are always fun. Who doesn't love running and jumping, and rolling around like you are a five year old again."

When asked what advice they would give other Soldiers on how to best succeed in future competitions such as these, the answer is consistent - prepare.

"Take every opportunity you have to prepare and study," said Conley. "I did a lot of rucking on my own, when I received the MOI I started studying ... I would have my wife drill me in the car even."

"I prepared for the competition beforehand with a lot of mental conditioning," explained Turchio. "I work out regardless of competitions so that I maintain my physical fitness, but a lot of my preparation was studying and mental preparation for what could come ahead as part of the competition."

Though the competition was trying, the Soldiers each gained valuable experiences.

"You should participate in competitions such as this for acquisition of knowledge to improve yourself," said Turchio. "You improve as a person and set the example for your peers and your subordinates."

"It was a very tough competition," said Conley. "During the competition, I thought to myself - 'I never want to do this again' - but once it was all over, I was proud of myself and had a sense of accomplishment that I did it.

I now have stories and experiences that I can pass on to future subordinates I will have. Overall, it broadened my experience as a noncommissioned officer. It was a very enriching experience and I would do it again."

Both Turchio and Conley will compete, representing the 94th AAMDC, at the U.S. Army Pacific Best Warrior Competition this summer.