Among other things, the competition includes a physical fitness test, land navigation, a written exam and a 12-mile march. With a soldier of the year and non-commissioned officer of the year being named Thursday, several contestants were only a few points apart and the live interviews were going to determine the winner. Four interviewers — including Taylor — planned to question and score each soldier Wednesday. The questions can range from Army doctrines and mottos to the U.S. Constitution.
"The top contenders, those scores are pretty close. So it's going to come down to who has the most knowledge," Taylor said. "This can go either way."
A final dress rehearsal using the technology took place Tuesday just hours before two days of interviews with soldiers on 11 bases around the U.S. were set to begin.
The limitations of relying on technology to make small distinctions quickly became evident. The video quality on the large screens broadcasting from each base was a little fuzzy. While soldiers could easily be made out, their facial expressions could not. Audio on some bases was clearer than others. It was not clear if the high-pressure atmosphere of sitting just a few feet away from senior Army leaders could truly be duplicated.
"Would it be better to have them here in person? I really do believe that it would be. But we couldn't afford to do that, so this is the next best thing," Taylor said.
Army officials said it was difficult to pinpoint the savings from doing the competition remotely. In part, that's because travel costs vary depending on which bases soldiers come from each year. But the soldiers typically travel with their immediate supervisors and have their meals and lodging paid for by the Army.