Fourteen of the 2nd Infantry Division’s best vied for top honors over three days, but only three could advance in the annual soldier of the year competition.

Spc. Eric Kocourek of 2nd Battalion, 2nd Aviation Regiment took soldier of the year honors after the competition ended Friday afternoon.

Sgt. 1st Class James Holland of 6th Battalion, 37th Field Artillery won the non-commissioned officer of the year title, and Cpl. Bae (whose full name was not available at press time Sunday) won the title for South Korean augmentee soldier of the year.

The three will compete at the 8th Army competition June 2 to June 6 in Daegu.

On Wednesday, the first day of competition, soldiers competed for top physical training and written test scores. They followed up with an eight-mile rucksack march, then went straight to weapons qualification.

On Thursday, they completed a variety of soldier skills, along with day and night land navigation, and then completed the competition with a formal board hearing Friday.

“The competition tests both the physical and mental capacity of the soldiers,” said 2nd Infantry Division Command Sgt. Major Brian Stall.

While the 210th Fires Brigade ran the competition, Stall oversaw most of it himself and advised the competing soldiers.

It’s a rarity and a valuable experience for soldiers to get that much face time with with any division’s command sergeant major, some of the NCOs sponsoring the soldiers said.

During last year’s competition, some competitors hadn’t practiced the skills they needed while with their units. That was largely changed this year during quarterly unit competitions.

Some soldiers said firing straight after the rucksack march was the biggest physical challenge. Others said that it wasn’t the tasks that were difficult; it’s competing against the best.

“The whole process is a challenge,” said Staff Sgt. Marquis Henderson, of 1st Battalion, 72nd Armor Regiment, headquarters company.

The competitors’ experience varied greatly; one soldier had just returned to active duty after several years; others were not long out of high school.

“I’m the lowest ranking in here, so I have to prove myself,” said Pfc. Raul Rojas of 6-37, Company C. “I feel pretty good about that actually ... I want to prove that if I can do it, anyone can do it.”

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