TIKRIT, Iraq, March 9, 2007 - Soldiers from units under the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade, 25th Infantry Division competed Feb. 13 and 14 at Contingency Operating Base Speicher, Iraq, for the title of Soldier of the Trimester.

Fourteen competitors vied for the title through two days of challenges that tested their physical and mental endurance and basic soldiering skills. The soldiers each had won similar competitions within their own units to be eligible for the brigade-level event.

Spc. Liliana Soto, from Company A, 209th Aviation Support Battalion, and Sgt. Robert Diaz, from Company D, 2nd Battalion, 25th Aviation Regiment, won in the categories of junior enlisted and noncommissioned officer.

"I never thought I was going to win," Soto said. "It was a big surprise."

"It feels good to be able to compete with outstanding soldiers from all the battalions and to rise above the rest," Diaz said.

The stakes were more than just the honor of being called "Soldier of the Trimester," though. The winners were awarded a brigade coin with their name engraved on it, a trophy, a $50 gift certificate from Army Air Force Exchange Services, an Army Commendation Medal, a four-day pass to Doha, Qatar, and a chance to participate in the Soldier of the Rotation competition at the end of the deployment.

The winner of Soldier of the Rotation will not only be given a free dress blue uniform, but will also be awarded a seat on the first flight back to their home station at the end of their unit's combat tour.

The events began 6 a.m. Feb. 13 as the soldiers gathered at the Morale Welfare and Recreation center near the brigade's operation center. There they competed in a standard Army Physical Fitness Test, which tests muscular and cardiovascular strength and endurance. The physical fitness test included timed sit-up and push-up tests as well as a two-mile run.

Following the physical fitness test, the contestants were faced one at a time with a board of command sergeants major who grilled them with questions on topics such as weapons, survival and wear of the uniform.

The command sergeants major conducted two separate boards, one for the junior enlisted and one for the NCOs.

The final event for the first day of the competition was a written test on basic soldiering skills.

On day two, the competitors went to the range to qualify on their M16 and M4 rifles. After that, they performed a series of hands-on tests that included basic weapon drills, radio operations and first aid.

While the soldiers each spent time preparing for Soldier of the Trimester, nothing in the competition was beyond the basic soldiering skills.

"For both soldiers and NCOs, it is testing basic soldier skills," said Master Sgt. Mike Sutterfield, from 3rd Battalion, 25th Aviation Regiment. Sutterfield was at the competition as a sponsor for Staff Sgt. Rodney Randolph, one of the NCOs participating in the events. "It tests their ability to perform basic soldier tasks under pressure. For NCOs, it tests their ability to perform those tasks at a leadership level."

Rather than require soldiers to learn new skills for the competition, preparing for it involves honing the skills that all soldiers are already trained in, Sutterfield said.

Even still, it can take months of studying and practice to be competitive in the events.

"I studied a lot," Soto said. "I studied five to six hours a day every day and I started doing physical training on my own so I could prepare for the physical fitness test."

Diaz said he trained for the competition by carrying over his training for the E-5 promotion board and his unit's own Soldier of the Month Board.

"In December I won the Soldier of the Month Board for my unit and got a 150 on the promotion board the next day," Diaz said. "The Soldier of the Month Board is a good opportunity to make sure soldiers are sharp. You have to keep studying for it and do a lot of hands on practice."

The maximum score possible for a promotion board is 150 points.

Even after all of the preparations, parts of the event were still intimidating for the soldiers.

"The hardest part was being in front of the all the sergeants major," Soto said.

Diaz agreed that the board presented a challenge.

"Actually, the first two events on the first day were the most challenging part," Diaz said. "The PT test was the most physically challenging, and the board was the most intimidating. But to get those done first is good because it's definitely downhill from there. The rest is just demonstrating knowledge."