FORT BRAGG, N.C. - On Tuesday, the XVIII Airborne Corps recognized Staff Sgt. Loren A. Gernandt from Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 20th Engineer Brigade and Spc. Patrick J. Jeffrey from Battery B, 3rd Battalion, 4th Air Defense Artillery Regiment, 108th ADA Bde., as the XVIII Abn. Corps Noncommissioned Officer and Soldier of the Year.

The announcement, made at Sports USA, was the culmination of a competition that began March 29 and ended April 1.

Nine NCOs and seven Soldiers from across the various units in the corps spent four days at the XVIII Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg Noncommissioned Officer Academy competing for the top honors. The Soldiers had to complete numerous tasks in a short span of time, including an Army physical fitness test, the rifle range, urban orienteering, a written exam and warrior training tasks. The final day was spent in their Class A uniforms being interviewed by a panel of senior command sergeant majors.

In one of his first tasks as the new command sergeant major of the corps, Command Sgt. Maj. Earl L. Rice and the other board members questioned the candidates about basic Soldier tasks and Army knowledge. Rice, who was the XVIII Abn. Corps NCO of the Year in 1991, said he was honored to be a part of the process.

"I'm very proud to be part of this years competition," said Rice. "I know what I had to go through to get to this level. It's a testament to the Soldiers and NCOs that make it here and it shows the amount of support they get from their organization. It's not easy."

After the competition, the Soldiers then had to wait almost three weeks to find out who would be named the XVIII Abn. Corps NCO and Soldier of the Year. Rice started his remarks with 'what an awesome airborne day' and credited competitions like the NCO and Soldier of the Year with helping keep the U.S. Army as the most powerful, professional Army in the world.

"Everyone competing was absolutely the best of the best. The competition was tough, but the fact that you (Gernandt and Jeffrey) are standing up here shows how well you prepared," said Rice.

Gernandt said the competition was tough and he was grateful for the support from his command and his Family in preparing for the event.

"This truly is an honor and is very humbling," Gernandt, an Asheville, N.C. native, said. "The most special part is being here with so many exceptional NCOs."

Jeffrey echoed Gernandt's statement and praised those he competed against.

"This was one of the most challenging and most meaningful experiences of my life ... meeting and competing with these Soldiers," said Jeffrey, who hails from Sarasota, Fla.

The NCOs and Soldiers that Gernandt and Jeffrey competed against applauded the winners along with leaders and Soldiers from across Fort Bragg recognizing the accomplishments of these two Soldiers.

"You two lead by example," said Lt. Gen. Frank Helmick, commander, XVIII Abn. Corps and Fort Bragg. "Words whisper, but examples thunder."

The journey for Gernandt and Jeffrey has just begun. Starting next week, they begin preparing for the Forces Command NCO and Soldier of the Year competition with help from Rice and the NCO Academy. Additionally, Helmick promised them the support of Fort Bragg's leaders and all 54,000 Soldiers stationed here.

"You've got our total support because I don't like finishing second in anything," Helmick said with a smile.