The U.S. Army Finance Corps named Staff Sgt. Benson Njoroge as its Non-commissioned Officer of the Year and Pfc. Matthew Hawkins as Soldier of the Year May 3. Both Soldier and NCO endured a grueling week of physically and mentally tough events to earn the top title.

"I'm feeling really confidant," said Hawkins from the 176th Financial Management Support Unit, from Korea. "I haven't told anyone that because actions speak louder than words. My actions are speaking louder than what I was thinking of myself and it's given me the confidence I need."

The Finance Corps NCO and Soldier of the Year, also known as the Finance Corps Warrior Challenge, began months ago as a virtual board. Here about 50 financial specialists submitted packets to compete for the virtual board. At the board's conclusion, a total of 14 Soldiers and noncommissioned officers were offered the chance to travel to Fort Jackson to compete for the title.

"It was a phenomenal challenge," said Command Sgt. Maj. Gennaro Penn, U.S. Army Financial Management School senior enlisted leader, and Finance Corps regimental sergeant major. "This Soldier and NCO can get the ring and title of Noncommissioned Officer and Soldier of the Year for the Finance Corps, it's very prestigious."

The week started strong as the competitors began the physically tough portion of the Warrior Challenge by taking the Army Physical Fitness Test followed by the confidence course. After cleaning themselves up and grabbing breakfast, snacks and water, they were on the go again to compete in Warrior Tasks and Battle Drill lanes. Here the challengers completed several tasks, including land navigation, searching a detainee, creating a fighting position, assembling and disassembling a rifle, treating a casualty and a mystery event.

The pugil sticks was my favorite event," Penn said. "It was supposed to be the mystery event, but that mystery went away real quick. The Soldiers figured it (out)."

The mystery event seemed to be the competitor's favorite event as well. Soldiers were given a short class on combating an enemy with a rifle in close combat taught by Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Adame, a combatives instructor assigned to the U.S. Army Drill Sergeant Academy. Adame also acted as referee for the pugil competition.

"The defining characteristic of a warrior is the willingness to close with the enemy," Adame yelled at the competitors as they suited up for the pugil pit. The quote is one of Adame's favorite.

Day two of the competition consisted of a forced ruck march, qualification range, then shifted into the mentally challenging aspect -- the formal board. During the board competitors were grilled with rapid fired questions covering topics such as unified land operations, military customs and courtesies, current events, Finance Corps history and lineage, Army programs and weapon systems to name a few.

"The competition has been very fierce," Penn said. "The board was the accumulating event. This competition came down to pure points."

The final days of the competition allowed each competitor to take a break and recuperate from their hard work. According to Penn, they were "completely spent."

The Finance Corps regimental ball was scheduled for the evening of May 3 where the competitors were the guests of honor. They mingled with fellow finance specialists and leaders as they eagerly awaited the formal announcement of the 2019 winners.

Finally the competitors were announced to accept the title of Finance Corps 2019 Warrior Challenge winners. Njoroge and Hawkins walked away with not only with the title of NCO and Soldier of the Year, but all the bragging rights that accompany the title and an invitation to defend their title next year.

"It would be so unreal," Soldier of the Year winner Hawkins said during the competition about what it means to him to win the competition. "I already feel honored my NCOs thought of me for putting my packet in (for the competition). It's a big deal."