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It wasn’t long ago that Sgt. Nicole Rejiester was a small-town deputy sheriff in upstate New York, convinced there was more she could do with her life.

“I had promised myself I wouldn’t get stuck in this podunk little town,” she said.

Three years later, she’s halfway around the world serving as a military policewoman in the Army’s 80th Area Support Group in Belgium. And there’s little doubt she’s making something of her life.

Rejiester was named U.S. Army Europe Soldier of the Year at a ceremony in Heidelberg, Germany, on Friday.

Also taking top honors was Staff Sgt. Marcus A. McClain, named USAREUR Noncommissioned Officer of the Year.

They were picked by a board of noncommissioned officers in Europe after a grueling three-day competition among the best of the best from USAREUR’s 60,000 soldiers.

With so many of those troops deployed to the Middle East, a special category was created among deployed V Corps units while breaking out 1st Infantry Division as a separate major command for the competition, according to competition organizer Sgt. Maj. Timothy Gregory.

“Deployed units were definitely part of the competition,” Gregory said.

The secret to his success, said McClain, a combat engineer from Straughn, Ind., was a rigorous mental and physical workout program for the competition, including two to three hours of study a night. He started preparing while deployed to Kosovo for most of the past year.

“That, and you can’t get discouraged,” he added, recalling when he slipped up on hands-on field test. “I had a brain cramp, but I just had to put it behind me and keep moving.”

McClain and Rejiester both received $3,500 in U.S. Savings Bonds, a trip for two to Garmisch, Germany, and two business class round-trip tickets to the United States, among other prizes.

Winners and runners-up

U.S. Army Europe Soldier of the Year

Sgt. Nicole Rejiester, 80th Area Support Group, Deputy Commanding General Units

Runners-up

¶ Spc. John A. Kirbow, 272nd Military Police Company, 21st Theater Support Command Soldier of the Year

¶ Spc. Andrey Baranovsky, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 173rd Infantry Brigade, Southern European Task Force Soldier of the Year

¶ PFC Daniel L. Keene, Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, V Corps Artillery, V Corps (and deployed units) Soldier of the Year

¶ Spc. Philip J. Prins, B Troop, 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division Soldier of the Year

USAREUR Noncommissioned Officer of the Year

Staff Sgt. Marcus A. McClain, Company C, 82nd Engineer Battalion, 1st Infantry Division

Runner-ups

¶ Sgt. Valerie A. Bridgham, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Theater Movement Control Agency, 21st Theater Support Command NCO of the Year

¶ Staff Sgt. Gary D. Loten, 254th Base Support Battalion, Deputy Commanding General Units NCO of the Year

¶ Sgt. Shandan M. Lussenden, Headquarters Support Company, Southern European Task Force, SETAF NCO of the Year

¶ Sgt. Anthony D. Wilson, B Battery, 1st Battalion, 27th Field Artillery, V Corps (and other deployed units) NCO of the Year

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