GRAFENWOEHR, Germany -- It was cold on the morning of July 24 as Soldiers gathered just before sunrise at the non-commissioned officer academy here, ready to take the Army Physical Fitness Test that kicked off the 2012 U.S. Army Europe Best Junior Officer Competition.

The USAREUR BJOC is an opportunity for officers throughout the command to test their training in fierce competition against their peers and also provides a chance for the command to recognize the top performers.

Twelve competitors, from the ranks of second lieutenant to captain, were chosen from their perspective units to compete, some by competing in their own units' best junior officer competition.

"What we really try to do with the competition is bring together a fair competition for all branches," said Maj. Bill Carroll, BJOC officer in charge. "Whether it's a logistics, an infantry or a signal officer the gamut of events is as fair as possible."

The BJOC is a four day event and includes many challenges, like an obstacle course, a ruck march and then rifle qualification and that same night the officers are allowed four hours of sleep before they continue onto land navigation early the next morning.

"It's been pretty stressful, physical, challenging but overall it's been fun," said 2nd Lt. Victor Dominguez, a San Antonio, Texas native representing the 1st Battalion 77th Field Artillery Regiment. "It's a big eye opener with the events just up to the second day. Next year I would like to come out here and do better than what I did this year."

This is the second time that USAREUR has held the BJOC and it is the only junior officer competition in the Army modeled after the Best Warrior Competition held every year to challenge enlisted Soldiers.

"It's an all-encompassing competition that looks at key tasks for the officers at their level," Carroll said. "The physical aspects will be taken with them for the rest of their career but specifically at a pre-command level, most of these tasks they would be familiar with."

The competition provides those involved with knowledge and tools they can take back to their unit to share with their peers and subordinates.

"I think events like this are very essential," said 1st Lt. Joshua Herrington, a native of Colorado Springs, Colo., and an Army Air Missile Defense Command launcher platoon leader with the 5th Battalion 7th Air Defense Artillery Regiment out of Kaiserslautern, Germany. "If you don't know your basic infantry tactics you are going to fail your team, because you never know what situation you're going to be in especially if you are deployed. These tasks are some of the things that all officers need to know, if we don't know basic soldiering skills how are we supposed to lead Soldiers."

Only one USAREUR junior officer will claim the title of "best" for 2012, but for most, the experience gained during the competition makes everyone a winner.

"Take the challenge; it's going to be hard, it's going to make you want to quit but when it comes down to it at least you can say you did it," Herrington said. "Even though there is only one winner this year, everyone comes out a winner because of the experience and education. If you are here it's like being at the World Series, you may not win the World Series but at least you can say 'I was there.'"