A Fort Jackson Soldier was selected Soldier of the Year for the U.S. Army Accessions Command on Friday after two days of competition here.

"Four years ago when I came into the Army, if someone would have told me I'd be at this point I wouldn't have believed them," said Spc. Brian Winters, chaplain's assistant with the 120th Adjutant General Battalion (Reception). "But it shows that a lot of hard work pays off."

Representing the Cadet Command, Sgt. 1st Class John Ballesteros, an ROTC instructor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md., was named the USAAC NCO of the Year.

"My first thought was I was going to congratulate one of my fellow NCOs on a great job," Ballesteros said. "I was the last person that thought my name would be coming out of anyone's mouth."

Fort Jackson, Fort Monroe, Va., U.S. Army Cadet Command, U.S. Army Recruiting Command and USAAC Support Brigade were represented at the competition.

The first day started with an essay and a 50-question exam. From there, competitors moved to Range 10 for weapons qualifications. After a quick lunch, it was off to Warrior Task testing. None of the competitors knew ahead of time which four tasks they would be tested on.

For the NCOY candidates, they had to demonstrate they knew how to call for a medical evacuation, evaluate a casualty for life-threatening conditions, issue a warning order and use visual signaling techniques.

The SoY candidates had to demonstrate their proficiency in the use of a claymore mine, disassemble and reassemble an M-249 squad automatic weapon, evaluate a casualty and perform first aid for an open chest wound.

With a full day of performing under pressure already behind them, the seven competitors weren't finished for the day. They still had a day/night land navigation course to complete.

The second day of competition started just as the sun was rising, with the Army physical fitness test. After crossing the finish line of the 2-mile run, the contestants knew only one more obstacle stood in their way -- a grilling by a board comprised of six sergeants major.

Once dismissed by the board, the reaction was about the same from each competitor.
"It was fun, but I'm glad it's over," Winters said. "The hardest part was just the overall lack of rest. Everything happened in rapid succession."

Another competitor agreed.

"It's a huge relief to be at the end of a very long road, even though it's only been two days," said Sgt. Scott Boyle, a member of the 282nd Army Band at Fort Jackson.
As the winners were announced, USAAC's command sergeant major reminded all of the competitors that they are winners.

"You are leaving this competition a better Soldier than when you arrived here," said Command Sgt. Maj. Dennis King. He later explained, saying that in his opinion all of the Soldiers learned something about themselves that they didn't know already. For Winters, he learned how hard he could push himself.

"It's that gut check feeling when you are tired, you are worn out. You really don't want to go on any more but you just say to yourself 'I've got to finish this, just never quit,'" he said.

After observing the seven competitors push themselves for two days, King said he is excited about the future of the enlisted corps.

"Soldiers now are the best that they have ever been," he said. "What I have seen over the last few days shows me that our Soldiers are willing, able, educated, Army strong and we have a great future in our Army with the Soldiers we have in now."

Winters and Ballesteros will now compete at the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command level.

The other competitors were Spc. Laura Bowen, Fort Monroe, Va.; Staff Sgt. Jeffery Bowman, Fort Monroe, Va.; Cpl. Henry Gray, USAAC Support Brigade and Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Putnam, Recruiting Command.