Soldiers were pushed to their limit during a Fort Carson competition last week, marching miles in near record heat before testing their marksmanship.
The Army's Space and Missile Defense Command hosted the Best Warrior Competition bringing together soldiers from as far away as Japan and Germany to test their mettle in physical challenges, written essays and board interviews with Army leadership.
Six soldiers remained by Wednesday, donning their body armor and heavy packs before sunrise, preparing for a 12-mile race. Three hours later, the first soldier crossed the finish line.
"The altitude is killing me here," said Sgt. Nick Sciara. "I was at sea level for 27 years."
Sciara, who is stationed at Fort Meade, Md., arrived in Colorado Springs less than a week before the event. He barely had time to ascend the Incline in Manitou Springs to acclimate to Fort Carson's 6,000-foot elevation, he said.
While painful, the challenge is worth it to the soldiers, who spend much of their time working in an office.
"My day-to-day job is to sit in a room at a desk for 12 hours, go home take a shower, come back the next day and do it all again," Sciara said. "I'd rather be doing this soldier stuff."
Spc. Lauren Pauzus of the 100th Missile Defense Brigade in Colorado Springs agrees. Pauzus is the only woman in this stage of the competition, and while she finished last in the hike, she is still in the fight.
"My pride's a little hurt right now," Pauzus said.
Although she didn't perform at the level she believes possible, she demonstrated leadership during a stressful rifle shoot immediately after soldiers finished their hike Wednesday.
The soldiers were put through a rigorous exercise mimicking battlefield conditions before firing their weapons. Split into two groups, they had to lift a log and carry a training dummy.
"Too slow, do it again," yelled the first sergeant leading them. He commanded the soldiers to lift the log until their bodies gave out.
Sciara dropped to the ground, unable to continue.
Pauzus treated the situation as if they were in a combat zone, leading two others in establishing a defensive perimeter around her struggling teammate.
"Your first instinct is to help," Pauzus said.
With that instinct, Pauzus was able to learn from her experience at the competition.
"Doesn't matter if you are big, small, female or male, it is worth coming out here and trying," Pauzus said. "I learned more about myself during this than I have my whole life."