FORT LEE, Va. -- Noncommissioned officers prepping for the 2007 "Best Warrior" Competition will encounter some of the most rigourous tests as they exceed the Army standards and attempt to outdo each other. One competitor with a winning record insists on winning again.

The 2003 Soldier of the Year will return to Fort Lee Oct. 1 - 5 seeking the Department of the Army NCO of the Year title. Staff Sgt. Russell Burnham, 32nd Medical Brigade at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, who will be representing the U.S. Army Medical Command, said there isn't anything else he would rather do than compete.

"It is in me, it is who I am, a person who loves to try new things, who likes to be pushed to the limits and see what I am truly made of," Burnham said.

As a former Soldier of the Year, Burnham said he expects all events of the competition to be tough, but that's how he likes it.

"The tougher the competition, the more space there will be to learn more about the Army and myself," he said. "The best part about any competition is to see how you stack up against the next person and more importantly, yourself."

Burnham said he knows better than to expect this year's competition to be anything like back in 2003.

"I have approached this year's competition as a blank sheet of paper," he said, "I have listened to what others have said about the evolution of the competition from year to year. I've made a plan to execute the proper training that directly correlates to what might be there this year."

That sort of dedication amounts to a major consumption of personal time. But Burnham said that whenever someone wants to be the best at anything, it will and should take up a lot of personal time. That's why besides spending time with his family, Burnham does nothing else except prepare for October's event.

He is not doing it alone.

His current sponsor, 1st Sgt. Todd Squires, has also helped him prepare for this year's competition. His mentor and sponsor from 2003, Sgt. Maj. Kerry Kolhof, invited Burnham to shadow him. Burnham learned about Kolhof's career development as he prepared for 2003 competition.

"That time has helped me develop my Army career into something wonderful," he said. "But truth be told, they are just two of many," he said. "Every person I have come into contact within my career has mentored me whether they knew it or not. Everyone has something to offer, sometimes you just have to dig a little deeper to uncover what there is to learn."
For Burnham, the greatest thing about true mentors is that, "they can see when you need to be picked up and put back down."

Carrying the title Soldier of the Year can be both an honor and a burden. Burnham, however, holds himself to greater expectations than others expect of him.

"The most burdensome aspect is that to many people, the Soldier of the Year label holds the inference that you are perfect," he said. "No one is perfect, but a Soldier of the Year should be able to recognize mistakes, make corrections, and get on with it faster than the next guy."

At the DA competition, 26 warrior-Soldiers, representing 13 U.S. Army major commands, will test their skills and knowledge against themselves and against Army standards.

The winners will be announced in Washington, D.C., Oct. 8 at the Association of the United States Army luncheon hosted by Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth O. Preston.