Ryan McCarthy had no idea what he wanted to do in life while a student at Messalonskee High School in Oakland back in the 2000s, but he always felt a strong affinity for the military, as his grandfather was a 30-year officer in the Army and encouraged him to think about enlisting. In 2008, his senior year, McCarthy, of Belgrade Lakes, decided to take the plunge.

Staff Sgt. Ryan McCarthy

In October he surfaced as the Army’s Noncommissioned Officer of the Year at the Best Warrior Competition in Washington, D.C.

Choosing the military turned out to be the right decision for McCarthy.

After graduating from high school, he enlisted in the Army, entered basic training, did his first duty at Fort Drum, New York, and was deployed to Iraq and later Afghanistan. He spent the next 2½ years in Alaska and then headed to Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri, where he was an instructor in the sapper leader course, a 28-day regimen in small unit leadership for combat engineers, demolitions and mountaineering operations.

Out of more than a million soldiers in the service, McCarthy and those he competed against were chosen a year ago to pursue the award, which involved competitions on various levels and being evaluated in areas such as physical fitness, land navigation with map and compass, urban warfare simulations, weapons, and written exams. Once he was chosen to participate, he jumped into work mode.

Last month, after a year of rigorous preparation and a grueling, final, six-day competition with 10 other NCOs, McCarthy, now a sergeant first class, was named the U.S. Army’s 2017 NCO of the Year in a ceremony at the Association of the U.S. Army’s Annual Meeting and Exposition in Washington.

“It was a lot of work over the year,” McCarthy said Tuesday in a phone interview from his new home in Spring Lake, North Carolina. He is stationed at Fort Bragg with the 82nd Airborne Division.

“I had to sacrifice a lot of personal time, a lot of family time. I did a lot of studying. Physical fitness is the foundation of success for all of those things.”

He also had to demonstrate how to lead in chaotic situations and communicate effectively.

“They look for total soldier concept,” he said.

In addition to the noncommissioned officer award, he was given the Meritorious Service Medal for his win.

McCarthy represented the Army Training and Doctrine Command, one of 11 commands in the structure of the Army. Its specific purpose is to prepare the Army to fight in conjunction with other elements of the military with more demands being placed on NCOs.

Supporting him and cheering him on all the way was his wife, Emily, 28. Also a Messalonskee graduate whose maiden name is Mattos, she knew McCarthy while they were in high school, but they did not date until a few years later. They married in 2014 and now have a son, Lincoln, who is 1½.

“All of his work has paid off,” Emily McCarthy said of her husband. “I’ve seen him go from kind of a scrawny high school kid who was not always in the top of the class to being one of the best noncommissioned officers that our Army has. It’s pretty incredible.”

Emily McCarthy, who works from home for a digital media company in New York, said she is extremely proud of what he has accomplished.

“He has become such a great leader and has inspired so many people,” she said.

McCarthy is the son of Ted McCarthy of Rome and Wendy McCarthy of Savannah, Georgia.