Garrison Soldiers are working overtime preparing for the Headquarters Battalion Soldier and Noncommissioned Officer of the quarter board competition Feb. 15.

The contest challenges servicemembers' Military knowledge, confidence under pressure and physical abilities.

Winners advance to represent the battalion in the garrison's Soldier and NCO of the year competition in March.

"Pride is probably the biggest thing a Soldier is going to get out of a board," Sgt. 1st Class Michael LaVergne, Headquarters and Headquarters Company 1st Sergeant. The Soldier's supervisor is proud, the people the Soldier works with are proud and the Soldier's chain of command is happy.

The NCO and Soldier competitions are Army traditions offered at monthly, quarterly and yearly intervals.

Soldiers in the rank of Specialist and below compete in the Soldier contest while Soldiers in the rank of Corporal and higher compete for the NCO title.

The contest challenges a servicemembers' mind and body.

A Soldier's intelligence is tested during the boardroom discussion where servicemembers must demonstrate their military knowledge by answering questions posed by a group of senior NCOs.

The NCOs inquire about the Soldier's background and ask a plethora of scenario based questions assessing a servicemember's comprehension and ability to respond to pressure.

Master Sgt. Anthony Brinson, Directorate of Emergency Services NCO in charge, described the room as a silent and nerve racking environment especially for Soldiers new to the process.

"Until you speak that first word you're nervous," said Brinson who is mentoring the battalion's 212th Military Police Detachment Soldiers during their preparation.

The questions cover numerous topics such as weapons proficiency, map reading and current event knowledge.

"I never had a reason to study so much before," said Pfc. Christopher Sarracino, HHC combat engineer. "It's a lot to take in and a lot to remember. You don't know what you're going to be asked so you have to study everything."

Sarracino and Spc. Ricardo Pineda, HHC machinist and welder, both are participating in the competition for the first time.

The Soldiers said prepping for the board requires significant effort but it hasn't affected their daily routine.

"It's just organizing the things you usually do and make extra time for a little bit of studying," Pineda said.

The Soldiers are studying every day, but it will require more than correct responses to distinguish themselves from other competitors.

"There's a heat to their gaze," said LaVergne speaking of the superior officers who lead the discussion. "They want to see how you conduct yourself, they're looking at your uniform, they're watching your eye contact, they're listening to how you talk.

"The board is there to stress a Soldier out. Not to know if he can recite the answer to a question verbatim but whether or not he's comfortable enough in his knowledge to answer a question, even if an answer is wrong, if he's confident in his presentation that counts almost as much," LaVergne explained.

Soldiers who handle these rigors the best distinguish themselves from the competition, but the board is only part of the battle.

Servicemembers must also perform well in the physical portion of the contest which determines strength and endurance through activities such as long-distance runs and push-ups.

The headquarters battalion Soldier who best performs these tasks in concert with performance during the board questions wins the event and goes on to participate in the garrison's competition.

The ultimate goal for any Soldier is to win the garrison contest and represent Fort Belvoir in the Military District of Washington's Soldier and NCO of the Year event which occurs in the summer of 2012.

Belvoir has performed well in the MDW competition in the past with Sgt. James Collinsworth, 212th Military Police patrolman winning the Soldier of Year in 2011.

Collinsworth said the most difficult part of the contest for him was the 5.1 mile ruck march in which he carried an approximately 30 pound sand bag on a sprained ankle.

His squad leader pushed him through the pain he felt during the march and Collinsworth relied on his experiences competing at boards in Belvoir to excel in the rest of the competition.

He advises Belvoir Soldiers to study every topic that could be discussed in the boardroom and he also said servicemembers should push themselves during physical training.

"It's definitely a really big accomplishment," said Collinsworth who was proud to represent his unit as the Soldier of the Year.

Victory does bring accolades to a servicemember and his unit but Brinson insists that the experience is much more than a contest.

"It's not just a competition. I'm helping you excel in your military career," said Brinson who recognizes these young servicemembers are the next leaders of the military.

It's a long road before the MDW competition and battalion leadership is taking advantage of the time to fully prepare their servicemembers.

"There's no a magic eight-ball saying you're going to do good or you're going do bad," Sarracino said. "It's go out there and give it the best you can."