FORT SILL, Okla. (May 17, 2018) -- Eighteen Fort Sill Soldiers showed up for the Fires Center of Excellence (FCoE) Best Warrior competition May 9-14, for a grueling physical and mental challenge. However, by the second day, only six noncommissioned officers, and four Soldiers remained.

At the end of the competition, Sgt. Makayla Highler, A Battery, 2nd Battalion, 18th Field Artillery; and Spc. Fernando Lopez, Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 2-18th FA, 75th Field Artillery Brigade, were selected as the best noncommissioned officer and Soldier, respectively. They will move on to the III Corps Forces Command Best Warrior competition at Fort Hood, Texas, from June 3-8.

Drill Sergeant (Staff Sgt.) Gretchen Martinez, E Battery, 1st Battalion, 40th FA, said she volunteered to compete.

"I'm trying to push myself to the best of my abilities, and I'm having fun, while I represent my battalion," said Martinez, who has been a drill sergeant for two years.

Master Sgt. Caleb McFall, Fort Sill Noncommissioned Officer Academy operations noncommissioned officer in charge, helped design the competition, which the academy hosted.

Day One events included the Combat Conditioning Course, which is a timed obstacle course; a 12-mile road march to Camp Eagle here, which is where the Soldiers berthed; an essay test; and a stress shoot, where competitors dragged a 160-pound dummy, then engaged in one-on-one combatives, and then sprinted to a range where they shot 10 rounds at clay targets.

All the events were back-to-back, McFall, said.

Martinez said the stress shoot was the toughest event for her.

"After the combatives ... I was really tired and then trying to point the weapon at the target; it was hot and I was dizzy," said Martinez.

Conversely, she found the ruck march to be the easiest. "I ran the first four or five miles continuously, then kept up a really fast pace," she said. "I was the second Soldier and the first female to arrive."

Day Two events included Tactical Combat Casualty Care (first aid); Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosive masking procedures; assembly and disassembly of the M4 carbine, M9 pistol, and M249 machine gun; and improvised explosive device recognition and avoidance.

The competition concluded with a formal board appearance, headed by FCoE and Fort Sill Command Sgt. Maj. Carl Fagan on May 14.

"We really wanted to test their mental and physical fortitude, so they could see where they stack up against their peers," McFall said, of the competition events.

Each competitor had a sponsor from his or her unit who helped prepare them for the competition, and kept them motivated during the challenge.

Staff Sgt. Lee Turner, B Battery, 2nd Battalion, 2nd FA, section chief, sponsored his ammo team chief Sgt. Micah Brooks.

"I'm here to provide moral support and motivate him to give his best effort in everything," Turner said. "Last night, after he finished his 12-mile ruck march, I knew he was really tired, so I said: 'Give me your ruck; I can take it over to your bed; let me get you some water; let me get you a meal.'"

Turner's advice to Brooks was: "Give it 110 percent."

To win Best Warrior takes a lot of preparation, said McFall, who said he has competed in similar events during his Army career.

"You have to be in top physical condition because you're going to be tested, and you kind of know what to expect as far as events, but you really don't know until you compete," he said.

Pfc. Israel Cedeno, B/2-2nd FA, said he competed to push himself. On Day Two he said he had been doing well on all the physical events of the competition.

What did Cedeno gain from the challenge?

"You learn more about yourself: what you know, what you don't know, and how you can really push yourself," he said.

Cedeno recommended the competition to his peers.

It's a good competition, and you really find out if you are the Best Warrior, he said.