The U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence announced its best warriors during a ceremony May 5, on the heels of an intense three-day contest of mental and physical strength at Fort Rucker.

The annual ceremony held in the U.S. Army Aviation Museum recognized the USAACE Non-commissioned Officer, Advanced Individual Training (AIT) Platoon Sergeant and Soldier of the Year.

The 2017 USAACE Non-commissioned Officer of the Year is Staff Sgt. Mathew Johnson, an aircraft powertrain mechanic with C Co., 2-210th Aviation Regt., 128th Aviation Brigade, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia.

The 2017 USAACE Advanced Individual Training (AIT) Platoon Sergeant of the Year is Staff Sgt. Brittany Barfield, an AIT platoon sergeant with D Co., 1-222nd Aviation Regt., 128th Aviation Brigade, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia.

The 2017 USAACE Soldier of the Year is Spc. Michael Nixon, an instructor for the Basic Officer Leadership Course, D Co., 1-145th Aviation Regt., 1st Aviation Brigade, Fort Rucker, Alabama.

Command Sgt. Major Gregory M. Chambers, Command Sergeant Major of the Aviation Branch in his remarks said competition improves organizations and contributes to victory on the battlefield.

"As we support and defend our nation, competitive Soldiers are what wins battles," Chambers said.

"What we need more in today's Army is people who are willing to get outside their comfort zone and go above and beyond to make themselves better," Chambers said.

The only way to do that is to "give something up", and these Soldiers gave up personal time to study, do more physical training, and learn to break down a weapon and put it back together blindfolded, he said.

"We have nine individuals who took the time and made themselves better. In making yourselves better, you made your units and your organizations better," he said.

Chambers called on participants to go back home and inspire competitiveness in their peers.

The ceremony included a video presentation that showcased the events of the competition as Soldiers were put to the test across the gamut of mental and physical challenges:

• Army Physical Fitness Test: Push-ups, Sit-ups and a 2-mile run
• Urban Operations Exercise: Soldiers lead a team to clear buildings, engage enemy targets and capture a high-value target
• Confidence Course: Soldiers navigate a series of physically demanding obstacles and perform multiple physical exercises
• Written Test with questions about Army Standards, Procedures. History and Regulations
• 12-Mile road march with a 35 pound rucksack
• Land Navigation Exercise: Soldiers plot and navigate to four points in less than three hours
• M16 Range: Soldiers zero and qualify with their weapons
• Stress Shoot Exercise: Soldiers engage targets immediately after strenuous physical activity
• Break Contact Range: Soldiers work as a team to medically treat and recover a downed aviator while engaging threats
• Army Board: Soldiers appear before a Board comprised of Senior Command Sergeants Major.
• Mystery Event

The scheduled "Mystery Event" this year included a written test, a timed chain of command recognition drill, and blindfolded weapons assembly and function check.

According to Nixon, who said winning Soldier of the Year was a "big accomplishment", the ruck march was the hardest part.

"You've just got to let your body hurt for a little bit," he said.

All three USAACE winners received the Army Commendation Medal, USAACE Command team coin, a backpack filled with gifts, fishing gear on behalf of the USAACE Command Sergeant Major, and various gifts from sponsoring organizations.

The three winners will move on to compete at the Training and Doctrine Command level. Winners at the TRADOC level then go on to compete at the Department of the Army level.

The USAACE competitors showed their true colors of strength and resiliency during the final day of the contest, according to event organizer Sgt. Maj. David Ewing, USAACE Operations Sergeant Major.

"Although physically exhausted, and despite a constant rain, these Soldiers met the land navigation and confidence course with enthusiasm and esprit-de-corps. Each competitor finished the final day with just as much intensity and focus as on day one. A true example of the quality of the Soldiers we had competing this year," Ewing said.

The contest gives Soldiers the opportunity to "find out what they're made of," Ewing said.

"We do all the day to day tasks and we get caught in that routine, and it's good to have a competition where the best Soldiers get to excel, they get to prove their worth," Ewing said. "There's a lot of hard work the Soldiers put in this competition to make it this far."