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Spc. James Conklin, representing the U.S. Army Materiel Command, shoots an azimuth during the land navigation portion of the 2012 Best Warrior Competition at Fort Lee. Twenty four Soldiers representing the Army's major commands are vying for the titles of the Department of the Army Soldier and Noncommissioned Officer of the Year.

FORT LEE, Va. (Oct. 18, 2012) -- The 2012 iteration of the Army’s premier Soldier skills competition will conclude today after a busy four-day schedule that featured a mix of routine Soldier tasks along with a plethora of tactical challenges the event has cultivated over the past five years.

The event, officially called the Department of the Army Soldier and Noncommissioned Officer of the Year Best Warrior Competition or Best Warrior for short, brought together 12 NCOs and 12 junior Soldiers from the Army’s major commands to demonstrate their proficiencies in skills critical to the success of every Soldier.

Best Warrior events include the Army Physical Fitness, a board appearance, land navigation and a number of tasks deemed essential for survival on the battlefield, such as evaluate a casualty, stress fire and weapons marksmanship.

Fort Lee has hosted the event nine of the 11 years it has been held. Command Sgt. Maj. James K. Sims, acting command sergeant major, Combined Arms Support Command, and the installation’s ranking Best Warrior official, said the post always looks forward to the competition.

“The BWC is one of the most prestigious competitions in the Army and Fort Lee is proud to be a part of it,” he said.

The Sergeant Major of the Army oversees Best Warrior. In his second year as the noncommissioned officer in charge, SMA Raymond F. Chandler III directed a number of changes intended to strengthen the event. First, it was shortened from five to four days. Secondly, the traditional order of events were rearranged in an effort to make it more intense, said Sgt. 1st Class Randall Reed, the Fort Lee Best Warrior planning cell NCO in charge.

The chronological order of events in past competitions were the board appearance, APFT, written exam and essay, urban orienteering, Warrior Tasks and Battle Drills and a mystery event – a part of the competition unknown to competitors. This year’s Best Warrior began with the essay event followed by weapons qualification and zeroing, day and night land navigation, mystery event and WTBDs. The board appearance scheduled for today is the last event of the competition. For competitors like Spc. Richard Shepard, the event is something to savor.

“It’s been an honor to make it to the DA level and compete with 23 other Soldiers from all across the Army – it’s a fantastic training event,” said the Soldier who represented U.S. Army Europe this year. “Being a good Soldier-warrior is really a craft and you want every opportunity to perfect it.”

The warriors underwent arguably the toughest time “to perfect” their craft during the WTBDs that took place yesterday. The day started with a 3:30 a.m. wake-up call in the form of a simulated explosion in the Post Field House. From that point, Soldiers hurriedly got dressed, geared up and were led to the field outside of the facility that was full of moaning, simulated casualties. Later, the warriors were trucked to one of two ranges were they endured several events to include stress fire – a grueling task in which they had to fend off hostiles while performing numerous sub-tasks. One competitor, Spc. Jose Figueroa, said the day was trying.

“Today was the most difficult day,” said the U.S. Army Pacific Soldier after the stress fire. “They tested everything – your body and mind, but it was a good learning experience. When I become an NCO one day, I’ll be able incorporate the lessons I’ve learned here into sergeant’s time to train my Soldiers.”

Soldiers who participated in Best Warrior captured battalion and brigade-level Best Warrior competitions before moving up to the major command-level.

Sgt. Guy Mellor of the Army National Guard and Spc. Thomas Hauser of the U.S. Army Forces Command captured the NCOY and SOY, respectively, last year. They were awarded with an abundance of gifts from sponsors and supporting organizations and embarked on a tour of media interviews and personal appearances in support of the Army.

This year’s winners, as in the past, are scheduled to be announced at the SMA Awards Luncheon of the AUSA Annual Meeting and Exposition Monday in Washington, D.C.