GRAFENWOEHR, Germany - The 7th U.S. Army Joint Multinational Training Command (JMTC) named Sgt. Robert Murray of Company D, 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment and Sgt. 1st Class Aaron Beckman of Company C, the 7th U.S. Army Noncommissioned Officer Academy the winners of the JMTC 2009 Soldier of the Year and Noncommissioned Officer of the Year competition during a June 19 ceremony.

The Soldiers will represent the JMTC in the U.S. Army Europe (USAREUR) competition Aug. 9-13, 2009.

"I do not believe there has been a more grueling and physically challenging competition, said Staff Sgt. Stanley Black, last year's JMTC winner and Soldier of the Year for USAREUR. "Despite being physically and mentally stressed, and suffering sleep deprivation they soldiered on."

Also competing were, Staff Sgt. Jason Kuhns of U.S Army NATO, Spc. Joseph Piper of the Headquarters and Headquarters Company V Special Troops Battalion, Sgt. Darius Simpkins of the Headquarters and Headquarters Company Training Support Activity Europe, Spc. Gavin Spain of U.S Army NATO, and Sgt. Teresa Washington of the 7th Army JMTC G-4 (supply).

Since there are numerous separate units that aren't large enough to host their own competitions, some units sent their candidates to Grafenwoehr to compete. Kuhns and Spain won spots in the USAREUR Separate Units Competition, during the same competition. They will represent USAREUR separate units at the USAREUR-level competition.

The Soldiers demonstrated their abilities in the Army Physical Fitness Test, written examinations, an appearance before a board, and an evaluation of a series of warrior skills, such as day and night time land navigation courses. This year, because of the Army's campaign to highlight NCOs, the participants were also required to write an essay explaining what the 2009 Year of the NCO recognition means to them.

"Anything you think a Soldier needs to be proficient at, we were tested on start-to-finish," said Beckman. "It was kind of fun being a Soldier again."

Beckman said he thought being a senior small group leader at the Noncommissioned Officer Academy gave him a special advantage.

"I think I performed best at the STX lanes on Day 2. Those are the skills I use as a senior small group leader when we train our Warrior Leader Course students on a monthly basis, and it's kind of muscle memory when it comes to employing a hand grenade or setting up a claymore, said Beckman. "It's those trades that we have that we don't use, we lose. In a regular unit, we are so focused on what's going on in Iraq and Afghanistan - in the contemporary operating environment - we kind of forget our basic skills as a soldier."

Someday we are going to be fighting another enemy and we are going to have to use those skills again, and as an NCO we should make sure we train our Soldiers in those areas of responsibility, said Beckman.

Beckman said the competition helped him brush-up on skills he hasn't used in a while.

Murray felt he did well on a mission requiring Mission, Oriented, Protection, Posture (MOPP) gear. Murray was referring to the use of the specialized clothing and equipment, which is used to protect the wearer against nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) threats. He remembered the pre-operation training he received before deploying with his unit.

"When I got to the MOPP lane, I saw fake dead animals," said Murray." It was muscle memory or battle drill because I had done it so much with D Co."

The Company had trained on conducting operations in the NBC environment for about three months, said Murray.

"I even taped the gloves and boots, I didn't have to think about it," he said.

The ceremony and dinner was the final event of the competition. There were seven males and only one female participant competing, Washington.

"After the dinner and when it is all over, there will be a sense of pride, a sense of happiness because it is completed," she said. "I didn't quit."

"I was a runner-up for the NCO of the Quarter, and they chose me to participate," said Washington. "The events aren't things you do every day. There are some things you know you need to brush-up on."

It was an honor to participate because all of the candidates are good Soldiers and NCOs, said Washington.