U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Angel Perezhuertas and Spec. Mackenzey Garrison, both with the 597th Transportation Brigade, were selected as the Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command (SDDC) Non-commissioned Officer (NCO) of the Year and Soldier of the Year, respectively, during a ceremony at Joint Base Langley Eustis, Va., April 11.
Both of the winners, along with other competitors from SDDC commands around the globe, spent three days participating in the command's Best Warrior Training Excellence Program to decide who will represent SDDC at the Army Materiel Command's (AMC) Best Warrior Competition this July.
SDDC's senior enlisted leader, Command Sgt. Maj. Dana S. Mason, Jr. recognized the participants' dedication to excellence during his remarks at the ceremony.
"You have worked hard to get here today," said Mason. "Thank you for stepping up to take on this challenge to represent SDDC at AMC's Best Warrior competition."
Perezhuertas, a transportation management coordinator with the 597th's 841st Transportation Battalion, is a total force reservist -- the only reservist in the competition -- and is currently on a year-long set of orders to support the 841st.
Perezhuertas attributes his success in the competition to his drive to be a better Soldier and leader.
"There are always going to be areas where we need to improve during our careers, and this experience has been another opportunity to learn how to be a better Soldier and so that I can lead my Soldiers better," he said.
Perezhuertas knew coming into the competition as a reservist that he would be competing against Soldiers with more experience and who accomplish these types of activities full-time. But, he said that he was not intimidated and, in fact, it gave him more motivation to show how "we all wear the same uniform."
Garrison, a cargo specialist with the 597th's 832nd Transportation Battalion, said he had his future in mind when he started training for the competition.
"I want to do bigger and better things for the Army," said Garrison. "With the training and motivation I've learned from this experience, I know I can do anything I put my mind to."
Garrison has applied to attend the Army's Special Operations Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations training. He feels his performance here will help his chances of making his dream become reality.
During the program, competitors faced constant physical and mental stressors as they weaved their way through multiple endurance tests and mental evaluations, all of which were crafted to bring the best-of-the-best to the forefront.
The competition began April 9 with an early morning Army physical fitness test followed by a 20-kilometer ruck march. Other tests included weapons qualifications, land navigation, warrior tasks and battle drills, a written exam and essay, and a water survival exercise. The competition concluded with a Sergeants Major board to test their knowledge on U.S. Army history, policies and procedures, standards, career development and current events.
Command Sgt. Maj. Brian O'Leary, the 597th's command sergeant major, was proud to host this year's competition and believes it's a way to help make the Army better.
"Competition like this helps us build a deep bench and grow a better Army," he said. "It gives an opportunity for NCO's to do what they love to do, which is train and lead Soldiers, and it gives Soldiers a chance to strive to be the best and prove to themselves that they can rise to these challenges."
O'Leary acknowledges that his command swept the competition, but doesn't want to take anything away from the rest of the competitors.
"For us to have the NCO and Soldier selected is truly an honor," he said. "There were great competitors that came from all across the command and across the world, and I am always proud to put my Soldiers up against the best of the best."