Fort Jackson's best of the best have been named during the Drill Sergeant of the Year, Non-commissioned Officer of the Year and Soldier of the Year competition held recently. Each competitor endured a grueling week of physical and mental challenges that tested their knowledge, composure and heart.Gan, along with several other command sergeants major, sat for hours on a panel as they asked each candidate questions covering topics such as current affairs, weapon systems, military customs and courtesies as well as military regulations and programs. The formal board was the final event for the Soldier who would reign as champion.Those champions are; Drill Sergeant of the Year, Sgt. 1st Class Anthony Davis with 2nd Battalion, 39th Infantry Regiment, NCO of the Year, Staff Sgt. Wayne Hartman with 1st Battalion, 61st Infantry Regiment and Soldier of the Year, Spc. Matthew Rhodes of Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion.Each candidate gave their all preparing for the week-long competition that included events such as day and night land navigation, 9mm pistol range, a swimming event, the new Army Combat Fitness Test, Warrior Tasks and Drills, ruck march and the aforementioned formal board."It has been really tough and humbling at the same time," said Staff Sgt. Marygrace Espinoza, a drill sergeant with Company B, 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment. "I've learned a lot about my weaknesses and my strengths."Espinoza was the only woman to compete for the title of Drill Sergeant of the Year. While also a drill sergeant, she prioritized all available time to study and prepare for the competition. Through the support of her command team, she was also able to get additional hands-on training with land navigation."I am happy that I was able and given the opportunity to participate," said Espinoza. "I'm still going to be happy because I have taken so much more away from this and learned a lot about myself. Win or lose, I'm still a winner in my opinion."Espinoza was not alone in dedicating and prioritizing her work and home schedule to compete in the competition. Staff Sgt. Jeremey Houser of Company E, 3rd Battalion, 39th Infantry Regiment, was told he would be able to compete for the top title with less than a months' notice. With a little help from his Family, he too was able to prepare to take on the Soldier of the Year challenge."There was a lot of information to learn in a short time," Houser said. "I was able to study one to two hours a night after my drill duties and all day Sundays. My wife was very supportive. I would get my study time done and then have our time together to relax and spend time together."Houser said that being able to balance his work and home life helped him excel during the competition and gave him confidence in his abilities. He said he was also able to enjoy several of the competition events such as the M9, 9mm pistol range and swimming event. Houser was the highest scoring Soldier during the pistol range, "I only had three shots that didn't hit center mass."While only three of roughly 100 Soldiers to compete could emerge as victors, the competition was fierce according to fellow competitors, sponsors and competition coordinators."I never once during the competition thought I had this in the bag. I always felt like we were neck-n-neck during the competition," Rhodes said.
"My wife has been #1 in supporting me. She's helped me study and encouraged to keep going."Rhodes and Hartman will face a new challenge soon as they advances to represent Fort Jackson at the Training and Doctrine Command's Best Warrior Competition later this summer. Rhodes will also have an additional supporter as he becomes a father to a baby girl in roughly a month."I have some quality people helping train and support me," he said. "So I feel pretty good about the TRADOC Best Warrior Competition.Each of the post winners will advance to the next higher level of competition this year. Fort Jackson leadership have high hopes for the competition winners as they move forward since the post has produced the past two all Army Best Warrior winners.