FORT HOOD, Texas - The 4th Sustainment Brigade honored the top Soldier and noncommissioned officer of the year in an awards ceremony May 21. Four Wrangler Brigade troops competed for the distinction the week prior.

During the three day event, individuals were put through several challenges designed to test their physical endurance, knowledge, and skills to find the best well-rounded Soldier.

The competition began with encouraging words from the Wrangler Brigade leadership.

"You will be fighting against the best NCOs and Soldiers on Fort Hood," said Command Sgt. Maj. Erik R. R. Frey, the command sergeant major of the 4th Sust. Bde. "We want a Wrangler to win the competition at the U.S. Army level, so keep a positive attitude and drive forward."

"When you come out at the other side of the competition, you will be better Soldiers," said Col. Ron Kirklin, the commander of the Wrangler Brigade. "Give it your best effort - that is the bottom line."

While fitness played a key role in the competition, Soldiers had to hit the books and take an exam to kick off the challenge. After they put down their pencils, Soldiers went to the mats to display their hand-to-hand combat skills in a Modern Army Combatives test.

"Each task was challenging, but good Soldiers find the motivation to drive forward and finish strong. I don't back down from any challenge," said Spc. Antoine Mitchell, an administrative assistant for the brigade command team. "Soldiers need to have the right mindset for this type of competition; win, lose, or draw it helps build character."

Mitchell and the rest of the competitors took that drive to the Army Physical Fitness Test on day two. That endurance test was followed by a road march through various terrains with 45-pound rucksacks on their backs. The Wranglers wrapped up the unusually hot spring day at the weapons range.

"The hardest part was the road march," said Staff Sgt. Daniel Bradwell, an ammunition NCO for the 4th Sust. Bde. "But I prepared for it by using a heavier rucksack on longer distances."

"The competition was stressful," said Spc. Amber Burkhart, a truck driver for the 418th Transportation Company. "I was exhausted going from the APFT to the road march just 90 minutes later."

The final day tested their Soldier skills. Troops were evaluated in multiple warrior tasks including: first aid, land navigation, weapons familiarization, check point security, radio operation, and nuclear, biological, and chemical defense.

"I take these warrior tasks to heart because you never know when you might need to use them in real life," said Sgt. Michael Fox, a mechanic with the 418th Trans. Co. "I make sure that all of my training stays fresh in my mind. With someone's life at stake, I cannot afford to hesitate."

"Soldiers in support roles need to work even harder to prove themselves in these types of competitions because of the perception that we are somehow less than Soldiers when compared to combat arms troops," said Mitchell. "One cannot judge a support Soldier by his or her cover."

At the end of the competition each competitor appeared before a panel of senior NCOs where they were asked a number of questions ranging from unit history, Army programs, and leadership. The troops were also critiqued on the appearance of their dress uniform.

"They were looking for the best of the best to represent the brigade. Everyone already knows our patch on Fort Hood," said Fox. "But we want more than just III Corps to know who we are - we want the entire Army to know us."

Tensions were high throughout the competition because the Soldiers did not know how well they scored after each event. They all had to wait for the winner to be announced.

In the end, the Wrangler Brigade named Fox the NCO of the year and Burkhart the Soldier of the year. Both troops are from the same company, and they earned the Army Commendation Medal for their accomplishment.

"This competition humbled me," said Fox "It also motivated me because now I know I can train my Soldiers to standard."

"I didn't want to let anyone down. That was my motivation throughout the whole process," said Burkhart. "I didn't want my team leader, squad leader, or platoon sergeant to look bad."

Next, the Wrangler Brigade winners will go up against the best troops in the III Corps and Fort Hood competition.