ST. LOUIS (Aug. 12, 2010) -- The Army National Guard named its Soldier and Noncommissioned Officer of the Year at the Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the United States Conference here last night.

Sgt. Larry Isbell of Oklahoma and Staff Sgt. Adam Little of Michigan were named Soldier and noncommissioned officer of the year, respectively.

Isbell, who has served in the Oklahoma National Guard for three years, said the award recognizes the professionalism of the National Guard.

"It's not just an individual award," he said. "It means to me that my state and the National Guard are doing all the right things."

Isbell said his success in the competition was not just the result of his own hard work, but of the superior guidance of his mentors in his unit, Headquarters Company of the 179th Infantry Regiment, 45th Infantry Brigade, based in Guthrie, Okla.

Isbell, an infantryman, won at the company level almost a year to the day of Wednesday's presentation. He then went on to battalion, brigade, state, regional and finally the national competition.

Isbell said that although the competitions were intense, the experience has been an enriching one.

"It's helped me develop a lot of talents that I never would have developed beforehand," he said. "It's forced me to take more initiative and train a whole lot harder than I normally, would because I knew I had to prove myself."

Isbell said he now hopes to mentor younger Soldiers in his own company, so they have the opportunity to obtain the same honors and experience he has earned.

Little, who has served in the Michigan National Guard since 2002, agreed.

"You get amazing training opportunities that you wouldn't normally get with your unit" he said. "I would encourage all of them to start down that pipeline, work towards nationals and take full advantage of those training opportunities."

Little, who is a military policeman, is the full-time officer candidate school course manager for Michigan's 1-177th Regiment, Regional Training Institute.

Last year, Little made it to the regional competition. He said he used that experience for this year's training.

"I learned from the experience last year, rededicated myself and put all the pieces in place to train to successfully complete this year's competition," he said.

The competition itself was brutal, especially with Fort Benning's heat index at 108 degrees, Little said.

"I think every one of our competitors that came to Fort Benning eventually hit a wall," he said. "It was a multi-day competition. The events were strenuous, both physically and mentally demanding, working with sleep deprivation and all the other environmental challenges."

Both Soldiers said they look forward to mentoring fellow Soldiers, who want to compete in next year's competition.

In October, the pair will represent the National Guard at the Department of the Army competition.