FORT LEE, Va., Oct. 3, 2011 -- Twenty-six motivated Soldiers began their pursuit of prestigious Army titles here today as they completed the first challenges of the 2011 Best Warrior Competition.

Celebrating its 10th anniversary, Best Warrior is the Sergeant Major of the Army-sponsored event that culminates with two Soldiers being awarded the titles of either U.S. Army Noncommissioned Officer or Soldier of the Year. Thirteen major commands/regions are represented, to include U.S. Army Europe, U.S. Army Pacific, U.S. Army Reserve Command and others. The newcomer this year is the Installation Management Command.

The 2011 candidates were welcomed to the competition and Fort Lee on Sunday during a special dinner that featured Army Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III. At 5 a.m. Monday, they were standing on the infield of Williams Stadium with more than 1,000 advanced individual training students cheering them on from the stands as they prepared for the Army Physical Fitness Test.

Sgt. Guy Mellor, the NCO of the Year candidate representing the Army National Guard, would later describe that moment as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

"This is real. We're here competing at the national level, and I'm sure it means a lot to every one of these competitors," he said.

To prepare for the physical demands of Best Warrior, Mellor, a cannon crewmember assigned to the 145th Field Artillery Battalion, Salt Lake City, said he maintained a steady workout regimen -- six hours a week and at least one hour each day -- with lots of running, pushups and sit-ups.

"It takes a lot of dedication," he said. "You have to set goals and meet those goals. You have to push yourself."

That's a common trait among Best Warrior candidates. Without self-motivation, none of them would have made it through the various unit, battalion, brigade and command-level competitions that secured their spot at Best Warrior, which is commonly referred to as the "super bowl" of Army competitive events.

The pushup, sit-up and two-mile run events begin. During the 10-minute rest breaks between each event, the stadium vibrated with a cacophony of cadences, unit songs and loud cheers. It was an example of what lies at the heart of Best Warrior -- the meaning of Army Strong, the professionalism of the Soldier and the best-trained band of brothers and sisters in America.

"It's overwhelming at times," said Sgt. Douglas McBroom, the NCO of the Year candidate for the Army Materiel Command. "I'm so glad to be here. I've been training for an entire year to be here, and I'm just ecstatic."

Assigned to the 690th Rapid Port Operating Element at Fort Eustis, Va., McBroom said he received a lot of good advice on his way to Best Warrior. Fellow leaders and Soldiers encouraged him to stay motivated and to keep a positive attitude regardless of whether he did well or poorly at an event.

"It's important to keep driving forward and focus on the next event," said the native of Corpus Christie, Texas. "Just do what you know and hope you come out on top."

While those words of encouragement were helpful, McBroom said something much more personal is pushing him to win.

"I get my biggest motivation from my mother and my grandmother," he said while pulling up the sleeve of his fitness uniform to reveal a black metal bracelet inscribed with two names: Michelle McBroom and Bessie Goode. "They're currently battling breast cancer, but they're doing OK, keeping strong and their strength give me strength. It keeps me moving forward."

"Winning would mean so much to my Soldiers, my unit, my family and my community back home," McBroom said. "But it's my mom and my grandmother who are really pushing me forward to exceed all expectations. I'm just really glad to be here for them and to take all of this in while getting some of the best training in the world."

With the APFT is now behind the competitors, the remainder of Best Warrior week includes events that will test their knowledge, endurance and technical expertise. On Monday, they completed a written test and essay, followed by a training session focused on the new Army Physical Readiness Test that will soon replace the current APFT.

Other events in the week include a Soldier board where the competitors will face a panel of command sergeants major from several key organizations throughout the Army, an urban orienteering event where the candidates will demonstrate their knowledge of common warrior tasks, weapons qualification ranges, and field events where the Soldiers will face mock enemies in an urban environment.

Those interested may continue to follow the competition through story and photo updates to