The Maneuver Center of Excellence has named its top career counselors and re-enlistment specialists for 2011.

The Career Counselor of the Year is Staff Sgt. William Cunningham of 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, while Staff Sgt. Jason Boyd of the 6th Ranger Training Battalion at Camp Rudder on Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., earned the Retention NCO of the Year award. Sgt. 1st Class Sylvia Rainer of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, MCoE, was selected as Reserve Component Career Counselor of the Year.

The three Soldiers will now represent Fort Benning before the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command board, scheduled for July 25-29 in Chesapeake, Va. Winners there move on to the Army level.

“It’s a tremendous honor,” said Cunningham, 36, of East Alton, Ill. “There are a lot of great counselors stationed at Fort Benning. To be able to say I was Career Counselor of the Year feels pretty good.”

Cunningham, Boyd and Rainer appeared June 15 before the MCoE selection board presided by post Command Sgt. Maj. Ricky Young. They were questioned on all aspects of the Army Retention Program " including options, guidelines, incentives and policy " as well as their knowledge of world affairs. Military bearing, conversational skills and appearance also factored in the judging.

“Ultimately, with any board, it boils down to preparation,” Cunningham said. “Sometimes, those things are so close, it can be the smallest thing in the world that separates one person from the other. … Any time you sit down in front of a group of sergeants major, it’s always going to be stressful. That’s the nature of the beast.”

Cunningham, a 14-year Army veteran, has been on Kelley Hill since May 2006. He was a medic and retention NCO with 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, before moving over to 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, where he’s served as a career counselor the last four years. Cunningham has twice deployed to Iraq with the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team.

He’s being reassigned to HHC, MCoE, within a week and likely will work out of the Installation Retention Office. Finishing first at the TRADOC or Army competition would be “tremendous,” he said.

“There’s quite a history of successful Soldiers coming out of Fort Benning,” he said. “To have the potential to be a part of that group would just be awesome.”

Getting over the next two hurdles would mean an official job change for Boyd, who’d gain an automatic slot in the Army career counselor course, he said.

“Hopefully, I’m on my way,” he said. “It’s something I’m definitely striving to do as my primary MOS.”

The 31-year-old Hershey, Pa., native is a medic with the 6th RTB but has worked as the only retention NCO in the battalion for the past 18 months. As such, Boyd builds assignment, education and promotion packets for other Soldiers. The extra duties tend to keep him busier at the start of a fiscal year, when most units are more aggressive in pursuit of their retention goals, he said.

“A lot of it requires calling people and networking,” he said. “I usually have to find out what the requirements are for whatever opportunities people are going after.”

Boyd entered the Army in 1998, left two years later and joined the Reserve in 2004. Five years ago, he returned to active duty.

As a Washington National Guard Soldier, Boyd deployed to Iraq in 2004. He went back three years later with the 3rd Infantry Division as part of the U.S. “surge.”

Preparing for the scrutiny that lays ahead next month at TRADOC " and perhaps the Army stage beyond that " is paramount, he said.

Rainer, meanwhile, said she considered her selection boards a thing of the past.

“I really thought I was done with them after 30 years in the Army,” she joked.

Rainer, 48, of Detroit, initially signed up for the Army in December 1980. Three years later, she went into the reserves but returned to active duty in 1999. In 2002, Rainer became a career counselor.

She arrived last July at Fort Benning, where she works on a two-person staff in the Installation Retention Office’s Reserve Component Transition Section. Her outfit assists Soldiers who want to slide into the National Guard or Army Reserve after leaving active duty.

Rainer said the MCoE selection board wasn’t nerve-wracking at all " it was just a matter of studying and she spent about two weeks brushing up on the material.

“To be recognized for doing the job is always nice,” she said. “I would really feel overjoyed to win at TRADOC. It would be a great accomplishment.”