The first 24 hours of the U.S. Army Installation Management Command Best Warrior competition came at the competitors with rapid tests of brain, brawn and battle skills May 22 and 23 at Camp Bullis, Texas.

The event, continuing through May 26, will determine which pair among the 10 participants will receive the titles of IMCOM Soldier and NCO of the Year and continue to the Army Best Warrior competition in October.

Sunday, May 23, was no day of rest for the dozens of cadre, sponsors, non commissioned officers and junior Soldiers who came from as far as South Korea for the competition.

Each Soldier brought their sponsor - a senior Soldier, usually their direct supervisor, as a coach, mentor -- and fan. Sgt 1st Class Mona Stephens, sponsor of Pfc. Marie Peto, the IMCOM-Pacific Soldier of the Year, called her Soldier "squared away. Once you give the training to her, she's got it."

The sponsors looked on as the competition began, with an equipment inspection and a written exam of the competitors’ Army knowledge, including a 500-word essay on fiscal responsibility. The subject was difficult to fit into 500 words, said Spc. Paige Plumlee, Soldier of the Year for IMCOM Northeast and Southeast.

Monday marked first day of testing competitors’ brawn, beginning with the Army Physical Fitness Test at 5 a.m. An appearance before a board of sergeants major and weapons qualifications followed.

The Soldiers and NCOs ran two miles and pushed through a series of sit-ups and push-ups. After refueling with breakfast, the NCOs underwent a uniform inspection, then presented themselves to the sergeants major for a grilling on a range of Army subjects, including uniform specifications, policies, weapons and current events.

Meanwhile, junior Soldiers headed to the firing range for the zeroing and weapons qualifications event. In the afternoon, the two groups switched places.

Soldiers can prepare for the board beforehand by brushing up on Army regulations and studying field manuals. But for Sgt. Steven Kennedy, representing IMCOM-West from Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, there was little time to prepare. He learned Thursday night that he would be competing because the region’s original NCO of the Year had to withdraw from the event.

Kennedy said given the conditions, the APFT went well, though his performance didn’t meet his personal standards. Feeling both butterflies and confidence before his board appearance, he asserted that despite that he was “still here, still fighting,” and looking forward to the 12-mile march and reflexive fire event later in the week.

While NCOs faced the board, junior Soldiers tested their mettle at the firing range with M4s. The event started with “zeroing,” a technique Soldiers use to test and adjust their weapon’s accuracy.

Each weapon has to be zeroed individually, explained Command Sgt. Maj. Wayne LaClair, of Camp Casey, located in Area 1 of South Korea.

“Normally, they would have NCOs coaching them,” LaClair said. “If you can’t zero, you’re going to have a hard time with qualification. The qualification range don’t lie.”

The unit of five marched 1.5 miles -- a couple of clicks shorter than LaClair had told them, to the qualification range. The deception was meant “to play some mind games, since part of being a good Soldier is being strong mentally," he said. Soldiers were allowed a practice round, but were then were tested with targets that popped up for a few seconds at a time from a distance of 50 to 300 meters.

They shot 20 rounds in a foxhole position, ten lying prone and ten kneeling. But, he noted, the purpose of the competition is to build esprit de corps, camaraderie through competition and to make better Soldiers. He encouraged the competitors to learn from the experience and use it to fuel their drive to become better Soldiers, and eventually, NCOs.

IMCOM Command Sgt. Maj. Neil Ciotola echoed his enthusiasm as he looked forward to IMCOM’s first-ever stand-alone Best Warrior competition. In previous years, IMCOM had partnered with several other Army Direct Reporting Units and agencies, he said.

However, “the magnitude of this command’s responsibilities transcend the geographic limitations of not only a given installation, but they encompass every theater of operations we’re involved in. I think it’s only fitting that this command, in the singular sense, represent itself at the Army level competition,” he said. “What excites me is this: We’ve set up a baseline. Every one of these senior NCOs has a given lane and every single one has exceeded that and taken it to another level.”

Plumlee, from the USAG West Point, New York, military police battalion, seemed in similarly high spirits.

This competition “is a good opportunity,” she said. “Everyone’s got enough heart to get through this. We’ll push through.”