FORT DETRICK, Md. -- Army Staff Sgt. Rick Lash makes physical fitness part of his daily routine.

About two years ago, he got more serious about it in his off-duty time and started working his way into the world of competitive bodybuilding.

In just his second competition, Lash's commitment - early mornings, long hours in the gym and strict dieting - paid off in a big way, earning him a clean sweep at a National Physique Committee show on Nov. 9, 2019.

Lash, 36, a native of Venice Beach, Calif., took first place in his class, his division and then won the coveted Best in Show award at the Northern USA Championships in Harrisburg, Pa.

"I literally couldn't win anymore," he laughed. "I didn't even know there was a Best in Show. I had my eyes on just getting nationally qualified; second or above. But obviously I trained to win the overall."

Lash, an operations non-commissioned officer who tracks, develops and implements different training programs for the Army Medical Logistics Command at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Md., has wasted little time basking in the glory of his first win.

Less than a week later, he was already back in the gym and starting work to bulk up even as he prepares to deploy to Kuwait in January. It will be his third tour overseas, following stints in Iraq and South Korea earlier in his 17-year career.

After completing his deployment to Camp Arifjan, where he will serve as the medical non-commissioned officer in charge and manage operations at the installation clinic for personnel stationed there, Lash is eyeing a couple dates in 2021 to make his national bodybuilding competition debut.

"It'll give me a good solid year to focus on the offseason, which is where you get all your gains," Lash said. "You focus on all your development and then you shred down for your contest."

One of Lash's workout partners and fellow competitor, Army Staff Sgt. Charmond "Deon" Magee said Lash has shown a great work ethic and improvement in such a short period of time.

"He continues to grow, do the right things and maintain discipline and dedication to the gym," Magee said. "He's a standout amongst a lot of people."

Lash credits the Army for developing his love of physical fitness, and it's been a big help in preparing for the new Army Combat Fitness Test that better aligns fitness with combat readiness for all Soldiers.

"It's a lot more grueling and more daunting than what the last test was for sure," Lash said. "It's total functional fitness, which is kind of what we do as bodybuilders."

The new standards incorporate six events - up from three in the current test - and is set to become the official Army physical test of record by October 2020.

The six events include the deadlift, standing power throw, hand-release pushup with arm extensions, sprint-drag-carry, leg tuck and two-mile run.

Magee, who won the overall men's physique title at the 2018 NPC Baltimore Gladiator Championships, stressed the importance of Soldier fitness in any situation.

"It's very, very important," he said. "One fit Soldier out of six is not enough. If you have a group of six fit Soldiers that work together, it's better because they have mental strength and can handle the physical demand, so the team will function better."

Lash said he did very well in his first unofficial go at the new test and has continued to improve his PT scores as a result of his pursuit of his bodybuilding goals.

"That's really helped me shine a little bit," he said of his focus on fitness and bodybuilding. "And as a result of that, it's made me more mentally clear, more focused, obviously in better physical condition, and that helped in every aspect of my life this year."

Lash also credits his recent selection for promotion to Sergeant First Class to his continued commitment to improving his body and fitness levels.

"It helps you find a discipline and maintain that discipline that we learn in the Army as far as food dieting, hitting your exercises every day," he said. "It just overall makes you a better-rounded Soldier."

Lash, who has parlayed his venture into a consulting business called Team Lash Aesthetic Bodybuilding, said he most enjoys the sport because it's a "never-ending modification process" for the body.

While he admits there's no such thing as the "perfect" physique, Lash said he just loves the pursuit.

"I'm extremely thankful (for the Army) because now I have goals outside of the Army that I can pursue after I retire, and hopefully become a professional bodybuilder and help promote the Army," he said.