The Army on Monday named its 2017 Soldier of the Year and Noncommissioned Officer the Year following the annual Best Warrior Competition.

The competition, which ran last week at Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia, tested 22 soldiers from 11 commands on such tasks as urban warfare simulation, physical fitness tests, written exams and board interviews.

Spc. Hazen Ham and Staff Sgt. Ryan McCarthy were announced as the winners during a luncheon at the Association of the United States Army’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C., on Monday.

Ham, the Soldier of the Year, said he felt proud and humbled when he found out he won.

“Just the caliber of the soldiers I’ve competed and trained with, I really feel like we competed with each other and not against each other,” said Ham, who’s an infantryman with 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii.

Ham said he never thought at any point in the four-day competition that he was winning because the fellow competitors were just that good.

“It was a very rigorous, intense competition,” he told Army Times. “Naturally as soldiers it just leads to a lot of bonding because we bond over tough shared experiences.”

The toughest part for Ham, who was representing U.S. Army Pacific, was the cumulative stress.

“By Day 3 we were really tired,” he said. “We still had to keep pressing on to the objective to meet the mission.”

The Best Warrior Competition benefits mission readiness and is some of the most realistic training he’s ever experienced, Ham said.

“Especially the medevac training,” he said. “It was the closest thing to performing real-life contact with the enemy and evacuating a casualty I’ve ever done.”

Ham said he would take that training back to his unit to share with his fellow soldiers.

McCarthy, the Noncommissioned Officer of the Year, agreed that it was a great training opportunity.

“The Army’s showing you and exposing you to what the current and future threats are,” said the combat engineer stationed at the Maneuver Support Center of Excellence at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

McCarthy, who was representing Training and Doctrine Command, said the toughest part was the uncertainty of how he did in the competition.

“We got done and got out of the field on Thursday and here we are on Monday,” he said. “Your mind wanders a lot, and you run these courses of action through your head, and you don’t know how you did.”

He said everyone in the competition was a proven winner and true professional.

“You couldn’t gauge where you stood with your competitors,” he added.

Charlsy is a Reporter and Engagement Manager for Military Times. Email her at cpanzino@militarytimes.com.

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