ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- The "best of the best" -- the top noncommissioned officer and Soldier serving in the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command -- were announced here April 1 as the command's Soldier and NCO of the Year competition drew to a close.

Maj. Gen. Nick Justice, RDECOM commanding general, presided over the awards ceremony and told Soldiers in attendance they are helping "to operationalize this command."

Justice referenced a ceremony earlier in the day when the organization bid farewell to Sgt. 1st Class Amin Henriquez, operations sergeant for Command Sgt. Maj. Hector Marin, the command's senior NCO.

"All you had to do was be there this morning to know the strength of the noncommissioned officer corps. You could see that bond of brotherhood and sisterhood. This Army is Family, and you can see it," Justice said.

"That impresses our civilian workforce because they don't work in an environment where it's that strong. That's what you bring into this organization, and it impresses them with the knowledge and skill that we have in our ranks."

Marin called the formation of Soldiers on stage to attention and ordered Sgt. Joshua D. Geren to step forward.

"Sgt. Geren - you are the command's NCO of the Year," Marin said. "Congratulations!"

He then called Spc. Bernard J. Quackenbush one step forward.

"Specialist Quackenbush - you are the command's Soldier of the Year," Marin said.

Geren is a 41-year-old former infantry Soldier from Tulsa, Okla., with tours to Iraq and Afghanistan on his resume'. He now serves as a satellite communications operator/maintainer assigned to the Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center, Fort Monmouth, N.J. He will relocate to APG this summer with his family.

"I love the Army," Geren said in an earlier interview. "I love the [American] flag on my sleeve. I'm where I'm supposed to be right now."

Quackenbush is a 23-year-old former Stryker Soldier who deployed to Iraq with 1st Battalion, 25th Stryker Brigade from Fort Wainwright, Alaska, his first duty station. He has since reclassified as an avionics and survivability repair technician, currently assigned to the U.S. Army Research Laboratory and stationed at White Sands, N.M.

Quackenbush is a sturdy 6-foot, 5-inch Soldier from Michigan's Shelby Township, just north of Detroit. He set the pace for the 12-mile road march with full rucksack, and was a strong performer in all areas of the competition.

Married with a 2-year-old daughter, Quackenbush said he plans to return to White Sands and continue work on his college degree.

The competition for NCO of the Year award was waged by four NCOs. Quackenbush had an easier avenue as he was the only junior enlisted Soldier taking part. RDECOM has only 90 Soldiers in its ranks, and very few junior enlisted, Marin noted.

Also vying for the NCO award were:

-- Staff Sgt. Christopher D. Duff, an explosive ordnance disposal technician assigned to the Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center, Picatinny Arsenal, N.J.

-- Sgt. Carl A. Philpott, a supply NCO assigned to Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, Natick, Mass.

-- Sgt. Larry D. Wesley, Jr., a chaplain's assistant also assigned to Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, Natick, Mass.

The week-long competition began with an Army Physical Fitness Test in the early hours March 28, and concluded with each candidate facing an interview board of command senior NCOs. In between were some grueling challenges, including the 12-mile road march with full rucksack, a land navigation course, an obstacle course, weapons qualification, and test on a number of Warrior skills in situational training scenarios.

Geren and Quackenbush now advance to the U.S. Army Materiel Command Soldier and NCO of the Year competition at a date and location to be determined.