CAMP BULLIS, Texas - The third day of the Installation Management Command Best Warrior competition kicked off at 6 a.m. May 24 with a 12-mile road march. Nine participants - vying for IMCOM Noncommissioned Officer and Soldier of the Year honors - set out in the darkness from the Camp Bullis, Texas, athletic field carrying 35 pounds of gear.

From there they trekked for more than two hours along dirt roads and trails cutting through hilly training reservation, just northwest of San Antonio.

Built in 1917 as a training site for American Expeditionary Forces heading to Europe in World War I, the sprawling, 27,000-acre installation is now testing IMCOM members as they try to reach the next stage: The Army-level Best Warrior Competition Oct. 2 to 8 at Fort Lee, Va.

For now, though, the IMCOM competitors remain focused solely on taking first place here. To do so, "I'm trying to make myself a better Soldier, a better NCO, a better leader," said Sgt. Steven Kennedy IMCOM-West region NCO of the Year, from Fort Leavenworth, Kan. "I want to qualify for the next step . to break down any barriers that it takes to get there."

"My intention is to win," said Spc. Paige Plumlee, representing USAG West Point, N.Y. "Seeing the competitors here, I don't think they are going to make it easy on me, but I do intend to win."

Before the road march, the competitors completed a written exam, essay, board appearance, physical fitness test and weapons qualification in the first two days of the event. Still left in the final three days: warrior task testing; combatives tournament; day urban orienteering; reflexive fire; night urban orienteering; and a mystery event - with some of the remaining activities to be held at Fort Sam Houston.

Staff Sgt. Jacob A. Brewster, IMCOM Europe NCO of the Year from USAG Stuttgart, crossed the finish line first in the road march with a time of two hours and 55 minutes.

"it started out with steep grades, not a lot of breeze. It gets extremely tiring, trying to make time or stay ahead of the next guy. Once I got past mile eight, heading into the wind felt better but by then you're just so beat and even though its flat and you have a good breeze its real hard to come in on time. I just did my best," Brewster said.

"It feels good to come in first. I'm just happy I made it in on time. That's really the goal. My only goal was to come in on time and do the best I could. That course is probably one of the hardest 12-mile courses I've done," he said.

Plumlee's sponsor, Sgt. First Class Kyle Feigum from USAG West Point, New York, said they knew the terrain and the temperature of south central Texas would be a challenge. San Antonio saw an overcast morning with a high temperature of 92 degrees for the day. He said she didn't get the time she had hoped for, but that her determination would carry her through the remaining events.

"She's got an awesome drive, a will to lead from the front and set the standard. She motivates other Soldiers to step up," Feigum said. "She has the drive to attack the range this afternoon and will be physically and mentally prepared for the warrior tasks and combatives tournament."

The IMCOM Best Warriors will join twenty-two more of the service's top NCOs and Soldiers from 12 commands to face off over the course of five days in October, with winners to be announced during the Association of the Army Annual Meeting Oct. 10 to 12 in Washington.