GRAFENWOEHR, Germany -- Elite Soldiers and NCOs from IMCOM-Europe gathered here, April 2-5, to out-shoot, out-march and out-smart their peers and determine who will represent IMCOM-E as the 2012 Soldier of the Year and Noncommissioned Officer of the Year.

Each competitor had previously bested other Soldiers and NCOs for the honor of representing their garrison at the IMCOM-E level. Seven Soldiers vied for the right to be named NCO of the Year, including Staff Sgt. Ryan Barnard, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, USAG Grafenwoehr; Sgt. Anthony Oddo, Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, USAG Benelux; Staff Sgt. Robert Donovan, USAG Kaiserslautern; Staff Sgt. Victor Ortiz, USAG Stuttgart; Staff Sgt. Howard Woodberry III, HHD, USAG Vicenza; Staff Sgt. Francisco Sandoval, HHC, USAG Ansbach; and Staff Sgt. Stephen Cribben, USAG Baumholder.

The Soldier of the Year group was smaller with only three competitors, Spc. Lajaune Scott, 2-32nd Field Artillery Regiment, USAG Kaiserslautern; Spc. Shaquana Taylor, HHC, USAG Stuttgart; and Spc. Jonathan Ellis, HHC, USAG Benelux.

The SOY/NOY competition assesses Soldiers on the essential elements of combat, leadership and poise. The variety of tasks, ranging from personal hygiene to combatives, maintains the competition's emphasis on a well-rounded and versatile champion.

This year, Donovan bested the competition, claiming the title as 2012 NCO of the Year, while Taylor took home the top honor among Soldiers, earning the 2012 Soldier of the Year accolade.

The first day of the rigorous four-day competition passed easily with weigh-ins and briefings. The following day, April 3, fueled the competitive spirit with an early morning PT test. USAG Kaiserslautern's Donovan dropped jaws by executing 100 push-ups in two minutes, while Cribben, from Baumholder, nailed a perfect all-around score of 300. After a few hours on the range, contenders sat for a written exam and an essay on the reduction of force.

The most spectator-friendly event was the combatives tournament, which ended the second day. Sponsors and interested bystanders filled the Grafenwoehr Physical Fitness Center and yelled encouragements such as "fight for your life" and "choke him out" as Soldiers and NCOs went head-to-head.

A 12-mile ruckmarch, both the most anticipated and feared event, kicked-off Wednesday, April 4. While some Soldiers felt no anxiety about the event, others dreaded the physical burden.
"I'm just trying not to pass out," said USAG Kaiserslautern's Scott, regarding his goals for the march.

After suffering debilitating dehydration during last year's ruckmarch, Donovan finished first for the NCOs at 2:30:45. Ellis dominated his group with a time of 2:54:15.
Day and night land navigation occupied the rest of the day. As a skill that emphasizes precision over brawn, land navigation often serves as a turning point in the scores.

"I think this portion of the competition separates a lot of people," explained 1st Sgt. Tracy Woodard, HHC, USAG Grafenwoehr and SOY/NOY judge.

The final day, Thursday, April 5, participants met for the selection board, which was the last stage of the competition. Contestants stood before a panel of eight sergeants major, answering questions on Army rules and regulations. Though initially daunting, most of the Soldiers had gone before multiple boards before reaching the IMCOM-Europe level of the competition.

"Progressively, with each board, I get more confident and less nervous," said Ellis. "That helps."

To compete at this level, contestants piled hours of training every week on top of their usual duties and obligations. Soldiers spent their free time leading up to the competition plotting land navigation points, sitting for mock boards and taking practice tests and essays. PT workouts, trips to the range and combative drills increased.

The time devoted to self-improvement didn't faze the competitors.

"I prefer to study than hang out," said Taylor, who estimated she spent over 40 hours per week training. "It's important to me. I came here to win, so I'm going to put forth the effort."

The motivation for a number of the participants to enter the fray was borne from positive, demonstrative leadership.

"It shows which NCOs stay knowledgeable," said Cribben.

Donovan concurred.

"Just being here is an example of leading from the front."

Editor's Note: Additional coverage of the IMCOM-E SOY/NOY competition is available at: