After four days of physical and mental exertions, two members of the 470th Military Intelligence Brigade emerged as their unit's Soldier of the Year and Noncommissioned Officer of the Year.

The brigade named Sgt. Javaris Cooper, of the brigade's 401st MI Company, as Soldier of the Year, and Staff Sgt. Matthew McGinn, of the brigade's 204th MI Battalion, as NCO of the Year.

"The scores were all pretty close," said brigade Command Sgt. Maj. Charles Totoris before announcing the competition results April 13. "It was neck and neck until the very end."

A variety of events filled the week for the six contestants. Staff Sgt. Michael Robinson, who set up and ran the competition, said each event was worth 500 points. The competition began with the Army physical fitness test and included land navigation, five different "warrior training tasks," an essay question, an oral board, a written examination, and a "surprise event" selected by the sergeant major. Announced only minutes before it was to begin, the surprise turned out to be a six-mile ruck march.

"This was the hardest event because I hadn't expected it," said McGinn, whose battalion is based on Fort Bliss, El Paso. He acknowledged he did well in the quick-paced challenge, in which contestants were scored according to their order of finishing, but he felt his strong points were in the written events and his board appearance.

"I had an idea of what would be asked," he explained. "I have a few years on these other guys."

Cooper, in contrast, said he began to feel good about his overall score when he completed the ruck march. However, he didn't let complacency set in.

"The close competition kept up the tension," he said. "It gave me the incentive to keep doing my best."

Cooper, who became an NCO after attaining Soldier of the Quarter honors, encouraged other Soldiers to enter the quarterly and ultimately the yearly competitions.

"Even if you don't win, you earn the recognition of your peers," said Cooper.

McGinn advised Soldiers to find out as much as they can about the competition beforehand and then to study as hard as they can.

Cooper and McGinn will go on to compete in their respective lanes at Intelligence and Security Command level. Runners-up Sgt. Theodore Anderegg, of the 201st MI Battalion, and Sgt. Edward Gribbons, of the 717th MI Battalion, will proceed to the U.S. Army South competition. Winners at these levels will move up to compete at Army level.