FORT INDIANTOWN GAP, Pa. -- After a grueling three-day competition at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, Spc. Bailey Ruff and Army Sgt. Jordy Brewer emerged as the Soldier and Noncommissioned Officer of the Year at the 2018 Army National Guard Best Warrior Competition.

"I really wanted to be the best of the best," said Ruff, a tactical power generation specialist with the South Dakota Army National Guard's 842nd Engineer Company. "These guys [the competitors] are amazing, and it was an honor to be around them, let alone to come out as the victor."

Brewer, an infantryman with the Kentucky Army National Guard's Company A, 1st Battalion, 149th Infantry Regiment, shared the same sentiments of earning the top honor.

"Obviously, I'm a little beat up, but I feel great," he said. "I live for competition and I generally enjoy the grind. But when you come out on top, it's definitely all worth it."

Ruff and Brewer competed against 12 Soldiers from throughout the Army Guard and will advance to the 2018 all-Army Best Warrior Competition in September at Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia, where they will compete to be named the Army's NCO and Soldier of the Year.

The 16-event Army Guard competition included an obstacle course, marksmanship drills, call for artillery fire, physical fitness challenges, formal board interviews and written exams.

The competition placed great demands on the competitors' physical and mental state while testing their tactical skills, said Army Sgt. Maj. Michael Chirdon, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the overall competition.

"Basically, we are trying to find the best Soldiers in the Army National Guard, who can sustain, who are thinkers and who can go the distance both physically and mentally," he said. "We want the top combination of all those things."

But the competition served other purposes, too.

"The competition is designed to improve the leadership traits of the competitors that we get here, and ensure they are successful leaders in their future careers," said Army Capt. Brandon Sweeney, officer in charge of the overall competition.

For Army Sgt. Eric Armijo, a combat medic with the Utah Army National Guard's Battery A, 2nd Battalion, 22nd Field Artillery Regiment, the competition's land navigation event was an exercise in overcoming and adapting to the elements.

"It was rough," he said of the event, which requires Soldiers to use a map and compass to navigate to numerous points on a course. "It took me a lot longer to get to my first point than I thought it would and there were a couple of times where I was ready to call it on some of the harder points. But I reorganized and regrouped by taking a look at my map and making sure that I was square on my plot."

The competition also challenged competitors to master technical and tactical skills that sometimes differed from their military duty positions.

For Ruff, this meant learning how to effectively call in artillery fire, which he said required extra work to master.

"If you put enough work into something, however, you can come out on top," he said.

The culminating physical portion of the competition was a 12-mile ruck march through Gettysburg National Military Park, the site of one of the Civil War's bloodiest battles, where markers and monuments honor those who fought there.

"Gettysburg has rich history within Pennsylvania," Sweeney said. "So we thought it befitting to do a ruck march [there] and all the competitors will hopefully have some sort of relatable experience in conjunction with their states."

While the competitors battled it out with each other, the punishing effects of summer humidity took their toll too.

Spc. Austin Jahnke, an infantryman with the Wisconsin Army Guard's Company A, 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry Regiment, said he started to feel the effects of running on empty at the halfway point of the ruck march.

"I started going black, and I ran out of water way too far back," he said. "I planned for water [while training] in Wisconsin -- not Pennsylvania."

Jahnke said he paced himself to go the distance.

"My body was just about to give out, so at mile seven, I had to start walking," he added. "Had I not slowed down, I probably wouldn't have made it back to the end point."

While the competitive spirit remained intact throughout the event, it also served as a testament to the battle buddy concept as well.

Army Sgt. Tycjan Sieradzki, a combat medic with the Illinois Army National Guard's Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 178th Infantry Regiment, trailed the pack throughout the ruck march due to a stress fracture in his left foot.

Nearing the finish line, all the competitors who completed the event fell back to march with Sieradzki to the end.

"All the Soldiers were rooting for me, so I couldn't let them down," Sieradzki said. "Though I would much rather have been in the middle of the pack instead of the rear, it was a great gesture and really showed how a hardship can bring Soldiers together."

Brewer, who also competed in the 2018 Best Ranger Competition in April, said after a quick rest, he will begin setting his sights on the all-Army competition in September.

"I am going to take some recovery time and ease into my preparation for Fort A.P. Hill," he said. "I'll be back, going hard physically, definitely keeping my nose in the books, touching up on weapons and making notes of stuff that I actually learned here before I forget them."

Though he said he will be preparing for the competition by training hard too, Ruff had a more immediate plan.

"I'm going home and catch up on some sleep," he said, "and maybe even eat a few good meals."