CAMP RIPLEY, Minn. -- As heavy rains fell, 14 Soldiers battled it out at Camp Ripley in the 2017 Army National Guard Best Warrior Competition to earn the title of Army Guard Soldier and Noncommissioned Officer of the Year.

At the end of the grueling three-day competition, Army Sgt. Grant Reimers, a heavy vehicle operator with the Nevada Army National Guard's 1859th Transportation Company, was named Soldier of the Year while Army Staff Sgt. Daniel Sebo, a combat medic with the Minnesota Army National Guard's 2nd Battalion, 175th Regiment (Regional Training Institute), was named the NCO of the Year.

"I just couldn't stop smiling," said Sebo, of his win. "It was a bit of a surprise."

Reimers agreed.

"Honestly, I couldn't really believe it," he said. "Throughout the competition, talking with some of the other guys, the competition was really steep. I had no idea I was going to win it."

Both will move on to compete in the 2017 Department of the Army Best Warrior Competition, scheduled for October, where they will compete against Soldiers from throughout the Army to be named the Army's Soldier and NCO of the Year.

The competition stood as a hard won test designed to stress the competitors' "physical and mental agility," said Sgt. Maj. Darin Mjeon, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the overall competition.

"We're going to stress these competitors, but not break them," Mjeon said at the start of the competition. "Ultimately, we're going to select the top NCO and the top Soldier to represent the Army National Guard at the all-Army Best Warrior Competition later this fall."

The competition lived up to those expectations, said Reimers.

"They had us running, I think yesterday, for about 20 hours, moving constantly," he said. "The day before that it was pretty similar."

Other competitors felt similarly.

"It's definitely been one of the most challenging things I've ever done," said Army Staff Sgt. Dustin Rottero, a drill sergeant with the Tennessee Army National Guard's Recruiting and Retention Battalion, who came in second place in the NCO category.

But for Rottero, one of the most challenging parts was simply the other competitors.

"The other competitors, they're all a bunch of great guys and here you have the cream of the crop of the [Army] National Guard," he said. "You could just roll the dice, pick any one of them, and they're going to compete and represent well at that next level."

Competitors engaged targets with a variety of weapons, tackled numerous physical challenges on the obstacle course, called in artillery fire, performed medical tasks, ran a 13-mile ruck march as well as numerous other physically demanding events.

"You just don't get the opportunity to train like that, especially for me being a truck driver," said Reimers.

The competition challenged each competitor in different ways, but for many the mental challenges were just as difficult as the physical ones. For Sebo, that mental challenge was toughest during the night land navigation course. Starting just after 3 a.m., competitors had to use a map and compass to guide them to several pre-determined points over large distances.

"As soon as you start, as soon as you start walking through the woods, it's cold and you're soaked and your boots are drenched," said Sebo. "At that moment you're thinking to yourself 'do I really want to do this?'"

For Reimers, that feeling came earlier in the competition, when competitors were required to run an unknown distance while encountering numerous tactical challenges along the way.

"My knees hurt and there was so much weight with the [body armor] and the Kevlar [helmet] and I was like, 'Man, this pretty much sucks,'" he said.

However, competitors leaned heavily on each other to make it through the competition.

"They showed up here as competitors, but they're now comrades," said Command Sgt. Maj. Doug Wortham, the senior enlisted advisor of the Minnesota National Guard. "What we saw throughout this competition was competitors turning into comrades, cheering each other on and in turn supporting each other."

For Wortham, that was most evident during the 13-mile ruck march.

'When that last competitor came across that [finish] line with that ruck, his whole pack of comrades was there with him there to cheer him along the way,' he said. "That just speaks to the values of what these Soldiers mean to each other."

Reimers said the reason for that support was simple.

"It's really great when you can all embrace the suck together," he said. "It just helps all around embracing just how hard these events are. You can laugh and joke and get over it that way."

But competitors supported each other in other ways.

"We all brought our expertise together from our specific areas," said Sebo. "Whether it was [infantry] or truck drivers or medics, [we could] combine that knowledge so that when it came to the competition we all could put our best foot forward. We all really grew together as a team and that camaraderie developed."

The events also challenged competitors to think on their feet.

'By design [the competitors] received very little guidance and very little direction,' said Wortham. "We did that because we wanted to make sure they could think on their feet."

Sebo said that was especially true during the crew served weapons event, which required competitors to move between positions using machine guns and other weapons to engage targets.

"The only direction was, really, grab an ammo bag and engage your enemy with any weapon available," he said.

Now that the competition is over, both Reimers and Sebo are looking toward the all-Army competition this fall.

"I've got a lot of training to do," said Reimers. "I didn't do as well here as I thought I should have, so I have to hone in my skills to make sure I'm ready to go for the all-Army competition."

Sebo had similar thoughts.

"It's a big competition," he said. "It's a big stage. There's definitely going to be a lot of training going into it."