FORT HUACHUCA, Ariz. " Under the clear Arizona skies and a hot sun, Soldiers from Signal commands and brigades from around the globe pushed themselves from one event to another. For four days, Soldiers competed for the top spots in the 2011 Network Enterprise Technology Command/9th Signal Command (Army) Noncommissioned Officer and Soldier of the Year Competition.

This year, Sgt. Harold Stoker, representing the 311th Signal Command (Theater), and Spc. Jonathan Budnik, representing the 335th Signal Command (Theater), were chosen as the NCO and Soldier of the Year, respectively.

“I feel accomplished, but I know I have to prepare for the next level,” Budnik said. “It was definitely tougher than the competitions I did before. “

Beginning with the Army Physical Fitness Test in the early morning June 6, the Soldiers were tested in a number of activities designed to test their overall Soldier knowledge, skills, fitness and ability to think and react. Along with the APFT, Soldiers were challenged with an M-16 rifle range, Army Warrior Tasks, a mystery task, a written exam and two essays, urban orienteering and a board appearance in front of sergeants major from around the command.

All of the Soldiers competing had won their respective NCO or Soldier boards from the commands or brigades they represented and had prepared for this level… but none realized how tough the next level would be.

“The grenade assault range was the most challenging for me,” said Spc. Brian Shepherd II, representing the 311th SC(T). “Not only did you have to sprint with full gear, you were low-crawling, high-crawling, throwing grenades… It was like running a football field with full gear on.”

Staff Sgt. Adam Fontanez, representing the 5th Signal Command (Theater), was a competitor in the 2007 competition here; but he was surprised at the changes made in the competition since then.

“This was a much better competition than the previous one,” Fontanez said. “It was much more challenging. It was tough, and that made it awesome.

“The village event and Warrior tasks were very challenging. Master Sgt. (Edith) Horn did a phenomenal job of putting that all together. That was absolutely the most challenging event.”

After four days of grueling competition, late nights and sore muscles, all of the Soldiers’ were recognized for their hard work and dedication to get them to this level of competition.

“This talented group of NCOs and Soldiers endured a tough competition this week to identify the best " and all have previously achieved success at battalion and brigade competitions for selection by their units to compete at the NETCOM/9th Signal Command level,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Roger Blackwood, U.S. Army Cyber Command/2nd Army. “NCOs and Soldiers who competed… be proud of what you completed as an individual, and notably accomplished as a team during the competition.”

During the June 10 recognition ceremony, each of the Soldiers was awarded an Army Commendation Medal, and a plaque, coins and certificates from Maj. Gen. Jennifer L. Napper and Command Sgt. Maj. Gerald Williams, NETCOM/9th SC(A) commanding general and command sergeant major. But in the end, it was Stoker and Budnik who would take the top honors and a chance to win at the next level.

“It feels unbelievable,” Stoker said. “I feel a lot of pride to be able to take this on to the next level.

“Each event was extremely challenging, but the competitors were absolutely the best to date. They were the reason I had to push myself the extra mile.”

“All of these competitors have worked very hard to succeed,” Williams said. “Over the past week, these NCOs and Soldiers have displayed the self-discipline, drive, determination, professionalism and pride that we should all emulate.”

Stoker and Budnik are scheduled to compete at the Army Forces Command competition scheduled for July.