FORT SILL, Oklahoma (Nov. 29, 2018) -- Two Soldiers from 2nd Battalion, 18th Field Artillery were recognized as the 2018 Fires Center of Excellence and Fort Sill Noncommissioned Officer, and Soldier of the Year during a ceremony Nov. 26, at Rowe Field.

Sgt. Makayla Highler, a Multiple Launch Rocket System section chief with A Battery; and Spc. Fernando Lopez, a combat medic with Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, were presented their awards by FCoE and Fort Sill Command Sgt. Maj. John Foley in front of hundreds of fellow Soldiers from the 75th Field Artillery Brigade.

"I've always thought it was possible, but never thought I'd achieve it, so when they said it was me I was really excited," said Highler, age 20.

She said she never quit during the competition, which took place in May here. Highler and Lopez then competed at the III Corps Forces Command competition in June, where they did well, but didn't win.

"During the 12-mile ruck march I did not want to keep going, but when you dig deep and don't quit, you can keep going," she said.

She acknowledged her sponsor; and husband, Sgt. Quintin Highler, of the FCoE, with helping prepare her for the competition.

"He (Quintin) studied with me at home, and helped me get in shape, and gave me the confidence to keep going," she said.

Lopez, said it felt great winning, he too, acknowledged two sponsors who helped prepare him for the competition.

"They prepared me for the board (appearance), they helped me with rucking, and the obstacle course, and all the skill level 1 tasks," said Lopez.

Foley said Highler and Lopez exemplify what everybody should try to be -- a winner.

"Second place is not good on a battlefield because it can get you occupied by another country on our homeland," the CSM said. "Achieving and winning everyday is something that you should strive to do when you put that uniform on. Life, not just being a Soldier, is about winning."

Foley explained how Highler and Lopez first had to win recognition at their unit level, then battalion, then brigade, and finally the FCoE competition."To win at the brigade level is hard in itself, to win at the installation level is extraordinary," Foley said.

Lopez described the series of competitions as "difficult, but a great opportunity to compete against your peers."

It came as no surprise to Col. Steven Carpenter, 75th FA Brigade commander, that two of his Soldiers won the FCoE competition.

"We expect excellence in our formation," the colonel said. "When we compete, we send our best, and our expectation is that they will be victorious."

What did Highler gain from the competition?

"From the III Corps competition, I learned that if you have confidence you can get through anything," she said.