Following a week of intense physical and mental challenges, Initial Military Training, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command selected Sgt. 1st Class Delroy Barnett as the 2012 Advanced Individual Training Platoon Sergeant of the Year at Fort Eustis, Va., Sept. 28.

Barnett, an AIT platoon sergeant representing the Army Medical Department School and Center and assigned to the 32nd Medical Brigade at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, was selected from a pool of nine competitors in the week-long crucible, which saw the Soldiers navigate obstacle courses, participate in combatives, stand before review boards, qualify on weapons firing, complete an Army physical fitness test and execute long-distance road marches.

During the competition, competitors were purposely unaware of the order of the events. Barnett, a career combat medic, said that not knowing what to expect next kept him "mentally sharp" and prepared to tackle whatever obstacle came next.

"It was always a mystery to me what the next task would be, and it kept me on edge," he said. "I didn't know what to expect."

Additionally, competitors received no feedback following each event.

Sgt. 1st Class Paul Gahl, the 2011 AIT PSOY winner who lead the group of nine through this year's competition, said the Soldiers were not evaluated as much on how they executed each task, but more on how they trained Soldiers to execute said tasks -- the core of what platoon sergeants are tasked to do.

Barnett did just that, compartmentalizing the facets of the competition and "taking it one step at a time."

"I had to get through three levels of competitions to get to this point, so I've found a way that works for me," he said. "I focus on one task at a time."

As a result of his win, Barnett will serve a one-year tour at IMT as an enlisted adviser, where he will provide ground-level experience and insight into the Army's initial entry training. Gahl, who will turn the reins over to Barnett, said this role is extremely important, as it gives the adviser "a voice to be heard across the Army," and allows them make an impact Army-wide to AIT programs.

The AIT platoon sergeants are top-performing professional noncommissioned officers from virtually all branches of the Army who play a critical role in the success of AIT training. After basic combat training, new Soldiers attend AIT, where they become experts in their specific military occupational specialties. The platoon sergeants mentor these new Soldiers, working with them after classes and on weekends to teach and reinforce technical lessons, warrior tasks and battle drills.

IMT Command Sgt. Maj. John Calpena emphasized the importance of the role of platoon sergeants in maintaining force readiness, calling them "the real deal behind the scenes."

"They are the last line of defense. While drill sergeants make [recruits] into Soldiers and send them to platoon sergeants, it's the platoon sergeants that bring them into our profession and get them qualified to be a part of an organization," Calpena said. "They're sending them into the operational Army, not to an instructor, not another phase of military training, but to a unit that's probably about to deploy. They fight and claw to make sure everyone they send to the field is ready.

"They are the driving force to keep building our Army to the next level," he added.

Barnett will soon travel to Washington, D.C., where he will receive the Sgt. 1st Class Finnis D. McCleery Award from the Army Chief of Staff, Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, and Sergeant Major of the Army Raymond F. Chandler in a special ceremony.

Looking forward, Barnett said that while earning the honor "means a lot" to him, he is moving along, anticipating a promotion to first sergeant and returning to training Soldiers.

"Now I know that I'm the best the Army has to offer, and it gives me confidence in going back to my unit and striving to train my Soldiers the best way possible," he said. "AIT platoon sergeants are entrusted to prepare our Soldiers to fight our nation's wars, and I think they're one of the best entities in the Army."