FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- Push-ups, shooting, running, grenade tosses and taking a written test ...
Those were some of the categories of competition in which six Fort Jackson NCOs and Soldiers participated March 19 in pursuit of the distinction of being named Fort Jackson's NCO and Soldier of the Year for 2009.

As night fell, two winners emerged.

Staff Sgt. Lisa Swanson, a drill sergeant with Company D, 3rd Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment and Spc. Daniel Parker, a trombone player with the 282nd Army "Victory" Band, are this year's winners. Swanson took top Noncommissioned Officer honors, and Parker is now Soldier of the Year.

The competition began in the darkness of early morning at Darby Field as the troops took an Army Physical Fitness Test. Soldiers from Fort Jackson and U.S. Army Accessions Command were pitted against each other. There can be only one Soldier in each prestigious category and each competitor, vetted at his or her unit to qualify, was hungry for the title.

"I hate to lose," said Swanson, as she prepared to attend the board which could propel her to the Accessions Command level of the competition for NCOs. "But I was surprised to win because we're (drill sergeants) so busy there was barely enough time to prepare."

Swanson's supervisor, Sgt. 1st Class Joe Garcia, a platoon sergeant with 3rd Bn., 34th Inf. Reg., expressed a lot of pride in her performance.

"She's our platoon's key to success," he said. "She's helped us win 'honor platoon' two cycles in a row."

Swanson, a Washington, N.J., native, is married with two children. She balances her home and professional life by leaning on her family for support.

"My kids keep me motivated," she said. "If I didn't know they supported me in my efforts, I couldn't do any of this."

Swanson's first sergeant, 1st Sgt. LaShan Hayes, was especially enthusiastic about the win because Swanson is a woman.

"This is outstanding -- especially because she's a female drill sergeant," Hayes said. "That just shows other female NCOs that they can achieve anything they set out to."

Hayes pointed out Swanson's character as the main reason for her success.

"Drill Sergeant Swanson is a fine NCO. She's one of those NCOs who always makes sure to find the answer to any questions she doesn't know. She not only studies for boards, she maintains the knowledge so she can pass it on to Soldiers," Hayes said.

"Every time I do these things I study as much as I can and I go in there to win," Swanson said. "My first board here was in November when I went to the battalion NCO of the Quarter. They told me about it the day before. There were three others that I competed against and I won. In December and January I went to mock brigade boards and I won those as well. February was the actual brigade-level board which allowed me to compete for NCO of the Year at Fort Jackson level," she said.

Parker, like most other military bandsmen, sometimes works seven-day weeks. His hours vary by the type of performance for which he prepares. His days are often long and there is very little predictability to his schedule. In addition to coordinating for a horn clinic his unit recently held, Parker attends school in pursuit of a master's degree. He was also surprised to have won.

"There wasn't a lot of time to prepare for this competition," he said. "It definitely has challenged me to dig in and drive on and do my very best no matter what circumstances I find myself in."

Despite the difficulty, Parker does not consider his efforts wasted.

"I'm exhausted, but it's an honor to win something like this - exhausting as it is," he said.

His first sergeant, 1st Sgt. Franklin Chapman, was very proud of Parker's achievement.

"He's a very good Soldier," Chapman said. "This was the worst time in the world for him to have had to be part of that competition. He just finished planning and executing a horn clinic, and he's also in school. He was recently selected as one of four Soldiers in our entire field to audition to be a Staff Bands Officer in Washington, D.C."

In addition to submitting records and recommendations from seniors, to become an officer in an Army Band, a bandsman must audition.

Parker, a Laurinburg, N.C., native, comes from a line of military men, starting with his grandfather and continuing with him and his brothers. He said all the men in his family have served in one branch of the Armed Forces or another.

Swanson and Parker are already preparing for their next challenge at USAAC's NCO and Soldier of the Year competition, which will announce its winners in April.

Winners of that competition will compete at Training and Doctrine Command level and then at Department of the Army level.

Swanson said her constant goal is to present a positive example for Soldiers-in-training.

"I get excited when I get to go back and tell my Soldiers how well I did," Swanson said. "I'm always telling them how they have to go to boards to better themselves, so when I go and I win, it's awesome."