JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. - U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Keith Hands, an egress training instructor with 2nd Battalion, 309th Regiment, offers advice to his colleague and mentee Staff Sgt. Matthew Parsons, a first-time Noncommissioned Officer of the Quarter competitor, while they scout the obstacle course near Tac3 Alpha together.

It is day two of a three-day competition for 174th Brigade's Noncommissioned Officer of the Quarter at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, March 13.

Hands, along with 10-12 other high-ranking enlisted soldiers serving as sponsors and graders, run alongside the four participants as they climb walls, ropes and nets.

The sponsors offer encouragement while the graders ensure the competitors perform to Army standards.

Only one of the four soldiers will move on to compete at the 1st Army Division East competition scheduled this May.

Master Sgt. Jeff McCummings, 174th Brigade Operations sergeant major, is making sure the best NCO is ready to go.

McCummings planned this competition to coincide with the lower demand for mobilization training during the winter months, giving contestants more time to prepare.

All the NCOs competing are trainer-mentors so doing less unit training means more time for professional development.

Parsons takes advantage of this by using his personal time to sift through study guides.

"If I win the Brigade NCO competition, it shows I am a good leader and I obviously have some military knowledge and experience behind me," said Parsons, "but it also reflects well on my leader, Sgt. 1st Class Hands."

Hands said the competition demonstrates strong leadership up and down the command chain and also makes them better trainers and instructors for mobilizing units.

"A lot of these are perishable skills, working with Parsons on these events gives me a refresher too, it makes us both better instructors," said Hands. "We are all instructors here, and it is good to go back over perishable skills like Army Warrior Tasks and get a refresher."

The event, which also includes performance drills in Army Warrior Tasks, a road march, physical fitness test, combat lifesaver techniques, combatives, marksmanship, land navigation, an essay and a board interview.