FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. - Staff Sgt. Clayton Prater and Spc. Joshua King represent the very best of Fort Meade.

Prater was named Installation Noncommissioned Officer of the Year and King was named Installation Soldier of the Year.

Prater, the noncommissioned officer in charge for planning and operations for Headquarters Command Battalion, and King, a cryptologic Russian language analyst for the 741st Military Intelligence Battalion, were each approved by a competition board comprised of senior Army leaders for the annual honor.

Command Sgt. Maj. Mike W. Watkins served as president of both installation competition boards.

"It's an absolute honor," said Prater, 35. "It makes me feel good to know all the time and effort I put into it ... that I achieved this."

"It all just happened so fast," said King, 24. "I'm proud to have done it."

To be named NCO of the Year, Prater appeared before a competition board at the company, battalion and installation levels between December and March.

King appeared before a competition board at the company, battalion, brigade and installation levels between January and March to be named Soldier of the Year.

At each level, the Soldiers were graded on a wide range of criteria, including physical fitness, appearance in uniform, marksmanship and knowledge of Army history, regulations and Fort Meade policies.

Prater and King each received an Army Achievement Medal and will be recognized in an upcoming award ceremony.

"I knew he was smart. He really makes me proud," said 1st Sgt. Jennifer Hall, Headquarters Command Battalion, who nominated Prater for the company-level competition board. "He showed initiative and displayed traits of being a leader. He wants to make the unit better and bring up the morale of the company."

Prater joined the Army in 1995 after studying electronics engineering at ITT Tech Institute in Dayton, Ohio. He said he was going to school and working at WalMart, trying to help his family pay the bills, when he met a recruiter at a local post office and learned about the many opportunities the Army offers.

He completed basic training and Advanced Individual Training at Fort Sill, Okla., and has deployed to Kosovo and Iraq during his military career. Prater has also served as an Army recruiter.

"I love doing what I do," Prater said. "To me, there's no greater honor for an American than to train a Soldier and lead him into combat."

King, a native of Webster City, Iowa, graduated with honors two years ago from Kent State University in Ohio with a Bachelor of Science degree in Russian translation and a Bachelor of Arts in international relations. When he had difficulty finding a job, King decided to join the Army so he could use his knowledge of foreign languages.

King enlisted in 2009 and completed his basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C. He then trained to be a Russian analyst at Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, Texas. Last May, King was assigned to his current unit.

"He's exactly the kind of Soldier the Army needs, especially in the intelligence community," said 1st Sgt. Donald E. Simmons, 741st MI.

Simmons nominated King for the company-level competition board and served as the board's president.

"He's bright, very respectful to everyone and a well-rounded Soldier," Simmons said.

Prater credits his wife, Laura, for helping him study for each competition board. He is now taking classes to earn a degree in business administration with a specialization in information technology from Columbia Southern University, an online university. One of his long-term goals is to become a church pastor.

An outstanding NCO is one who "doesn't waiver, enforces Army standards ... doesn't shoot from the hip and gives that extra effort," Prater said. "We walk a very thin line, but we have to maintain our bearing."

King, who was also named Linguist and Language Mentor of the Quarter, is now studying Arabic on his own. His immediate goal is to be promoted to sergeant and, eventually, sergeant first class to mentor and lead Soldiers.

To be a superior Soldier, King said one needs to be "dedicated, disciplined, motivated and selfless" to "rise above everyone else."

Although he has only been in the Army for 18 months, King said he is encouraged by the success he has attained so far.

"The sky is really the limit," he said.