Tag Archives: AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year

Drill sergeants, AIT platoon sergeant of year winners announced

 Previously in The NCO Journal:

By JONATHAN (JAY) KOESTER
NCO Journal

After four days of difficult competition, the 15 NCOs vying to become the 2016 Drill Sergeant and AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year were called into the Bowen Room of the Drill Sergeant School at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, for the announcement of the winners.

The toll the competition had taken was obvious, as many limped in to take their spots, walking delicately to avoid blisters and burns on their sore feet. They were pained and tired, but still standing proud.

Staff Sgt. Christopher Johnson runs the final segment of a 12-mile ruck march Friday morning at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. (Photos by Spc. James Seals / NCO Journal)
Staff Sgt. Christopher Johnson runs the final segment of a 12-mile ruck march Friday morning at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. (Photos by Spc. James Seals / NCO Journal)

Then the announcement came. Sgt. 1st Class Martin Delaney, Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, was named the 2016 Drill Sergeant of the Year. Sgt. Ryan Moldovan, 98th Training Division, was named 2016 Army Reserve Drill Sergeant of the Year. Staff Sgt. Brandon Laspe, Panama City, Florida, was named Advanced Individual Training Platoon Sergeant of the Year.

The 1st Sgt. Tobias Meister Award, which goes to the competitor who scored highest on his Army Physical Fitness Test, was awarded to Staff Sgt. Dustin Randall, Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

Before the winners were announced, the NCOs heard from Maj. Gen. Anthony Funkhouser, commanding general of the Center for Initial Military Training, who told them he was impressed by what he saw during the week. He also told a story about a family he met.

Staff Sgt. Brandon Laspe runs the final segment of a 12-mile ruck march Friday morning, with Staff Sgt. Keith Lovely close behind. Laspe was later named AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year.
Staff Sgt. Brandon Laspe runs the final segment of a 12-mile ruck march Friday morning, with Staff Sgt. Keith Lovely close behind. Laspe was later named AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year.

“There are a lot of families at my hotel because of the graduation,” Funkhouser said. “One family had a little boy, he was probably 10 years old. He sees me in uniform and he comes to start talking to me, making small talk, chatting away. He says, ‘Hey, my older brother is graduating tomorrow from basic training. He wants to be a drill sergeant one day.’ I say, ‘That’s pretty neat. Our drill sergeants are impressive individuals.’ So, he says, ‘Are you a drill sergeant?’ I look down at my rank, stand up straight so he can see it, and say, ‘No, I’m a General.’ He said, ‘Oh … so will you ever get promoted to drill sergeant?’”

After being named Drill Sergeant of the Year, Delaney said the feeling he got when he heard his name called could be summed up in one word: “Incredible.”

“Everything is so secretive that you have no idea where you stand,” Delaney said. “Everybody is on pins and needles, and you hope you did well enough in all the events so that they can call your name. It was a great feeling. These guys are the best from every installation, so of course, they are going to be very good at everything, and it was kind of nerve-wracking watching them do things so well.”

Command Sgt. Maj. Blaine Huston, left, gives the 1st Sgt. Tobias Meister Award to Staff Sgt. Dustin Randall on Friday at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. The award is given to the competitor who scores the highest on the Army Physical Fitness Test during the Drill Sergeant and AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year Competition.
Command Sgt. Maj. Blaine Huston, left, presents the 1st Sgt. Tobias Meister Award to Staff Sgt. Dustin Randall on Friday at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. The award is given to the competitor who scores the highest on the Army Physical Fitness Test during the Drill Sergeant and AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year Competition.

As AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year, Laspe said he was looking forward to his chance to work at the strategic level with the Training and Doctrine Command. As part of their victories, the winners of the drill sergeant and AIT platoon sergeant competitions spend the next year working at Fort Jackson, assisting TRADOC with policy.

“The competition was grueling, physically and mentally, but that’s what we train for and that’s what we prepare for,” Laspe said. “I’m excited to affect things at a more strategic level because now, instead of impacting my field and my group of Soldiers, I’ll have an impact on the entire Army. That’s pretty exciting.”

Staff Sgt. Brandon Laspe returns to his seat after being named the 2016 AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year.
Staff Sgt. Brandon Laspe returns to his seat after being named the 2016 AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year.

To be named Army Reserve Drill Sergeant of the Year, Moldovan had to survive a difficult challenge from Sgt. 1st Class Jason Scott, 95th Training Division. As the competition wore on, their respect for each other grew through the tests.

“These NCOs are top notch,” Moldovan said. “I had to keep up with them 100 percent of the way.

“I could talk to you all day about Drill Sgt. Scott,” Moldovan continued. “His ethics, his principles, his integrity. I’ll tell you a story about Drill Sgt. Scott. We were head-to-head, right? It’s me against him for all the glory. We had a surprise ruck march. They brought us into a line, we had our ruck sacks on, and they said, ‘Alright drill sergeants: Ruck march. Unknown distance, unknown time.’ I started tightening my straps. I went to tighten a strap, and it unsnapped. There was nothing I could do to get it to snap, and everybody was already halfway down the road. Drill Sgt. Scott — knowing that I’m his direct competition — stopped to help me. He said, ‘I got you, Battle,’ and he snapped me up and then we ran together on the ruck march. I have so much respect for Drill Sgt. Scott. He is a great competitor.”

There could only be the three winners, but as Funkhouser said earlier in the week, the 15 competitors were already “the best of the best.” The 15 walked and limped away from the week with memories they won’t soon forget. And Delaney, Moldovan and Laspe walked away with shiny new titles: Drill Sergeant, Army Reserve Drill Sergeant and AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year.

Staff Sgt. Brandon Laspe (from left), 2016 AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year; Sgt. Ryan Moldovan, 2016 Army Reserve Drill Sergeant of the Year; and Sgt. 1st Class Martin Delaney, 2016 Drill Sergeant of the Year, pose after the awards ceremony Sept. 9 at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.
Staff Sgt. Brandon Laspe (from left), 2016 AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year; Sgt. Ryan Moldovan, 2016 Army Reserve Drill Sergeant of the Year; and Sgt. 1st Class Martin Delaney, 2016 Drill Sergeant of the Year, pose after the awards ceremony Sept. 9 at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.

‘If you’re not bleeding, sweating and pushed to your brink … then you didn’t do enough’

By JONATHAN (JAY) KOESTER
NCO Journal

After a formal board interview and written test Tuesday night, the 2016 Drill Sergeant and AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year competitions kicked into high gear Wednesday, with the 15 competitors taking on challenges like a physical training test, day and night land navigation, basic rifle marksmanship and teaching new recruits.

Sgt. Maj. Kevin Artis, the G3/5/7 (operations/plans/training) sergeant major for the U.S. Army Center for Initial Military Training at Fort Eustis, Virginia, said he told the competitors their days and nights would be challenging through Friday, but he hoped they would stay motivated.

Staff Sgt. Martin Delaney, competing to be 2016 Drill Sergeant of the Year, reaches the last part of the hand grenade course, in which he had to name each grenade in the case and their function. (Photos by Spc. James Seals / NCO Journal)
Sgt. 1st Class Martin Delaney, competing for 2016 Drill Sergeant of the Year, reaches the last part of the hand grenade course, in which he had to name each grenade in the case and its function. (Photos by Spc. James Seals / NCO Journal)

“I expect the Soldiers here to do their best and strive to be the best they can be,” Artis said. “I expect them to show that they are top professionals, not only in the NCO Corps, but in their respective jobs.

“These are the top trainers in the Army, so we expect them to adhere to that standard,” Artis continued. “We expect them to be very professional and to execute all the tasks and requirements that we have laid out for them. Most of the tasks will be surprises to them. They don’t know what they are going to run into when they get here.”

Staff Sgt. Dominique Curry of C Company, 1-81 Armor Battalion, at Fort Benning, Georgia, is one of the nine NCOs competing to be named 2016 Advanced Individual Training Platoon Sergeant of the Year. As Artis predicted, Curry said the unforeseeable nature of the tasks he was being put through made the competition difficult.

Staff Sgt. Daniel Barsi, competing to be 2016 Drill Sergeant of the Year, instructs Basic Combat Training Soldiers in changing the direction of a column, column left, Sept. 7 at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.
Staff Sgt. Daniel Barsi, competing for 2016 Drill Sergeant of the Year, instructs Basic Combat Training Soldiers in changing the direction of a column, column left, Sept. 7 at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.

“It’s definitely a challenge,” Curry said. “Every day is a surprise. You really don’t know what to expect, so you are definitely on edge all the time. It’s a huge opportunity, not only for myself, but to represent Fort Benning. I’m definitely humbled. I’m out here to do my best and see where that takes me.”

Staff Sgt. Keith Lovely of D Company, 1-222 Aviation Regiment, 128th Aviation Brigade, at Fort Eustis, Virginia, is also competing to be AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year. Despite the surprises, he said he could predict one thing about the coming days: The events were only going to get more difficult.

“It’s going great so far,” Lovely said. “A lot of good NCOs out here competing against each other. It’s a lot of fun. I foresee it getting more difficult. I’m not saying it’s not already difficult, but we still have two-and-a-half more days ahead of us, so I think it’s going to get rougher.”

Staff Sgt. Brandon Laspe, competing to be 2016 AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year, puts on chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense gear on during a station Sept. 7 at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.
Staff Sgt. Brandon Laspe dons nuclear, biological and chemical protective gear during the 2016 AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year competition Sept. 7 at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.

 

Maj. Gen. Anthony Funkhouser, commanding general of the Center for Initial Military Training, was at the Hand Grenade Assault Course on Wednesday, watching as the competitors went through different stations demonstrating their knowledge of their craft, as well as their ability to pass that knowledge down to new Soldiers.

“It’s amazing the level of effort the sergeants put into this, to be very technically and tactically competent,” Funkhouser said. “You walk around here and you see them assemble and disassemble weapons, all the knowledge that we ask of them, the physical ability to do their mission, warrior tasks and battle drills. They are great role models. What’s really neat is that we have some trainees here from reception station — who haven’t even received basic training yet — learning from these guys as their role models.”

Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Wood, competing to be 2016 AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year, conducts an in-ranks inspection Sept. 7 at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.
Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Wood, competing for 2016 AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year, conducts an in-ranks inspection Sept. 7 at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.

Staff Sgt. Tyler Cushing of C Company, 1-46 Infantry Battalion, 194th Armor Brigade, at Fort Benning, was one of the four NCOs competing for the title of 2016 Drill Sergeant of the Year. He talked about the preparation necessary for the difficult days ahead.

“I spent months preparing once I was selected as post drill sergeant of the year,” Cushing said. “Preparation was pretty grueling. A lot of physical training, a lot of mental training and a lot of studying. I feel very fortunate being able to compete against all these great drill sergeants.”

Sgt. Ryan Moldovan, E Company, 1-390th Infantry Regiment, 98th Training Division, 108th Training Command, is one of the two NCOs competing to be the 2016 Army Reserve Drill Sergeant of the Year. He also spoke about his preparation in the past few months.

Staff Sgt. Emanuel Olivencia, competing to be 2016 AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year, works to camouflage his helmet during a station Sept. 7 at the Hand Grenade Assault Course on Fort Jackson, South Carolina.
Staff Sgt. Emanuel Olivencia camouflages his helmet during the 2016 AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year competition Sept. 7 at the Hand Grenade Assault Course on Fort Jackson, South Carolina.

 

“I did a lot of studying, a lot of reading, reading deep into the regulations, looking paragraph by paragraph, looking into the weapons regulations and seeing what every little piece is called,” Moldovan said. “I did lots of running, lots of foot marching. I try to get to the range as much as I can, but it’s hard to because of my civilian job” as a UPS delivery driver in Canton, Ohio.

“I’m just glad to be here, glad to be competing, happy to represent the Reserves,” he said. “All of the NCOs who are here are great. They’re the best of the best; I’m proud to be counted among them.”

Staff Sgt. Mark Mercer, 2015 Army Reserve Drill Sergeant of the Year, helped organize this year’s competition. He said his message to this year’s group was to give “110 percent” during each event.

“Don’t let Friday come and you say, ‘I didn’t leave it all out there at Fort Jackson,’” Mercer said. “Because if you’re not bleeding, sweating and pushed to your brink after the last event, then you didn’t do enough. You need to come out here and give it your all.”

As Major General Anthony Funkhouser, commanding general for the U.S. Army Center for Initial Military Training (from left); Sgt. Maj. Kevin Artis, the G3/5/7 (operations/plans/training) sergeant major for the CIMT; and Staff Sgt. Jacob Miller, 2015 Drill Sergeant of the Year, look on, Staff Sgt. Tyler Cushing conducts a disassemble/assemble/functions check on a weapon. Cushing is competing to be 2016 Drill Sergeant of the Year.
Maj. Gen. Anthony Funkhouser, commanding general of the U.S. Army Center for Initial Military Training (from left); Sgt. Maj. Kevin Artis, the G3/5/7 (operations/plans/training) sergeant major for the CIMT; and Staff Sgt. Jacob Miller, 2015 Drill Sergeant of the Year, look on as Staff Sgt. Tyler Cushing conducts a disassemble/assemble/functions check on a weapon. Cushing is competing to be the 2016 Drill Sergeant of the Year.

Competing for the title of 2016 Drill Sergeant of the Year are:

• Sgt. 1st Class Martin Delaney

• Staff Sgt. Tyler Cushing

• Staff Sgt. Dustin Randall

• Staff Sgt. Daniel Barsi

Competing for the title of 2016 Army Reserve Drill Sergeant of the Year are:

• Sgt. 1st Class Jason Scott

• Sgt. Ryan Moldovan

Competing for the title of 2016 AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year are:

• Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Wood

• Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Cummings

• Staff Sgt. Keith Lovely

• Staff Sgt. Jacob Meyers

• Staff Sgt. Dominique Curry

• Staff Sgt. Christopher Johnson

• Staff Sgt. Brandon Laspe

• Staff Sgt. Emanuel Olivencia

• Staff Sgt. Jonathan Sisk

NCOs grow during time as Drill Sergeants, AIT Platoon Sergeant of Year

By JONATHAN (JAY) KOESTER
NCO Journal

Winning any U.S. Army competition brings honor and glory to the victor. But the winners of the Drill Sergeant and AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year competitions get an additional perk. During their year as reigning champions, they get a new job.

In September 2014, Staff Sgt. Jonathan Miller was named Drill Sergeant of the Year, Staff Sgt. Christopher Croslin was named Army Reserve Drill Sergeant of the Year and Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Russell was named AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year. After their victories, Miller and Russell immediately went to work at the strategic level at TRADOC’s U.S. Army Center for Initial Military Training at Fort Eustis, Virginia.

The three said their experiences during the past year inspired them and showed them the big picture on Army issues.

“It’s been a learning experience,” Miller said. “Serving as Drill Sergeant of the Year has opened my eyes to a lot of things that I wasn’t aware of before. Working at the strategic level is much different than working as a squad leader or team leader, which is what I was used to. Seeing the big picture up here is truly awesome.”

Russell, who has been in the Army for 13 years and deployed to both Afghanistan and Iraq, also enjoyed his time working at Fort Eustis.

“It’s been eye opening to see the Army at a strategic level and be able to travel and see how other sides of the Army train, how they prepare Soldiers in Advanced Individual Training and basic training,” Russell said. “You get to see the whole picture.”

Croslin served his year as Army Reserve Drill Sergeant of the Year at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Croslin said he originally joined the Army Reserve so that he could stay near family in Oklahoma.

“I always wanted to serve in the Army and fight for my country,” Croslin said. “I joined in 2004 because of my desire to serve. The way I saw it, our country was at war, and I need to be over there. Whatever it was that I could do, I would serve however they needed me. But at the same time, I love my civilian side of life. I didn’t really want to be moved around the country my whole life. I’m a very family-oriented person, and all my family lives here in Oklahoma. I had the need and the want to serve, but at the same time stay close to my family.”

Though Croslin wasn’t sent to the Center for Initial Military Training at Fort Eustis, his year was still busy at Fort Sill, working with new recruits there, as well as traveling for various duties.

“I think everybody’s experience being Drill Sergeant of the Year is different,” Croslin said. “What I have pulled from it is the experiences I’ve been able to have with senior leadership — working with my command, getting their knowledge on what it means to be a leader. This is a position where you really get to spend some time with those leaders.

“And there was a lot of mentorship with other drill sergeants,” Croslin said. “A lot of drill sergeants look up to you when you become that pinnacle of a drill sergeant, so you have to hold yourself to a higher standard. Because everybody is basing it on: You are what’s right. There is a pressure that comes along with that. I knew that would come with it, but at times, you really realize that all the eyes are on you.”

Croslin credited the NCOs he started his career learning from with jumpstarting his Army Reserve career.

“To start it all off, it would have to be my drill sergeants in Basic Training,” Croslin said. “I remember them like it was yesterday. They set that example from day one in basic training of what it meant to be a Soldier. They showed what it meant to pay attention to detail, and that dedication to your country and to those around you, as well as the development of a team and what it meant to be part of a team.”

Miller said that early example is what made him want to become a drill sergeant.

“NCOs have been a pivotal part of my time in the Army,” Miller said. “As a young Soldier, NCOs were there to help guide me, to help correct any deficiencies that I had and to shape me into not only the Soldier that I was but the NCO I have become. It started with my drill sergeants. Everybody remembers who their drill sergeant was regardless of how long ago they served. Everybody remembers that influential person in their life. And that led me to want to become a drill sergeant, because I realized how pivotal they were in so many Soldiers’ lives.”

Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Russell, from left, Staff Sgt. Christopher Croslin and Staff Sgt. Jonathan Miller led the way on a ruck march during the 2014 competition at Fort Jackson, S.C. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal)
Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Russell, from left, Staff Sgt. Christopher Croslin and Staff Sgt. Jonathan Miller led the way on a ruck march during the 2014 competition at Fort Jackson, S.C. (Photo by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal)

A year spent working at the strategic level didn’t change what Miller saw as the problems that need fixing in the Army.

“The biggest change that I’d like to see across the Army is the overall discipline,” Miller said. “We see a degradation of the discipline that Soldiers have nowadays. There’s not the level of competence and discipline that I expect. I may have high hopes, but I think we’ve become lax, and I’d like to see us go back to a much more disciplined Army. Get out of the friendship mentality and get back to the leader-driven Army.”

Russell said he hoped to see more NCOs getting directly involved with their Soldiers’ training and not attempting to use technology as a quick fix.

“I want to see us getting back to the Army as a profession, getting back to the Army ethics,” Russell said. “We need to put more emphasis on training Soldiers and developing the individual Soldier instead of looking for technology to do that.”

Though Russell, Miller and Croslin all enjoyed their year at the top, their stint has come to an end. Recently, three NCOs took their places, as Staff Sgt. Jacob Miller was named 2015 Drill Sergeant of the Year, Staff Sgt. Mark Mercer became the Army Reserve Drill Sergeant of the Year and Sgt. 1st Class Samuel Enriquez was named AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year.

And the Army goes rolling along.

Drill Sergeants, AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year announced

Previously in The NCO Journal:

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By JONATHAN (JAY) KOESTER
NCO Journal

The final day of the 2015 Drill Sergeant and AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year competitions began with a 12-mile ruck march. As each of the competitors completed the last quarter mile of the march, they were greeted with cheers and the inspiring strains of Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger.”

Staff Sgt. Clark Burns takes off his pack after a 12-mile ruck march, the final event of the 2015 Drill Sergeant and AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year competition. (Photo by Clifford Kyle Jones / NCO Journal)
Staff Sgt. Clark Burns takes off his pack after a 12-mile ruck march, the final event of the 2015 Drill Sergeant and AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year competition. (Photo by Clifford Kyle Jones / NCO Journal)

With the ruck march complete, the competition was finally over and there was nothing left but to wait for the final announcement. After four days of grueling competition, the three winners were announced Thursday night.

Staff Sgt. Jacob Miller, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Maneuver Support Center of Excellence, Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., was selected as the 2015 Drill Sergeant of the Year; Staff Sgt. Mark Mercer, 3/378 Battalion, 95th Infantry Division in Norman, Okla., was the 2015 Army Reserve Drill Sergeant of the Year; and Sgt. 1st Class Samuel Enriquez, Company D, 232nd Medical Battalion, 32nd Medical Brigade, Fort Sam Houston, Texas, was the 2015 Advanced Individual Training Platoon Sergeant of the Year.

The three victors will spend the next year working at the strategic level in TRADOC’s U.S. Army Center for Initial Military Training at Fort Eustis, Va.

Sgt. 1st Class Samuel Enriquez calls his wife after being declared the 2015 AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year. (Photo by Clifford Kyle Jones / NCO Journal)
Sgt. 1st Class Samuel Enriquez calls his wife after being declared the 2015 AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year. (Photo by Clifford Kyle Jones / NCO Journal)

Miller said he was proud to hear his name called as 2015 Drill Sergeant of the Year after such a difficult competition.

“It was unbelievable,” Miller said. “There are no words to express how much of a moment this was for me. The whole competition lasted four days against the top of the top of drill sergeants. Just hearing my name called was surreal.

“We did a lot of mental and physical stuff to prepare,” he said. “We started in about May really training hard, getting ready to go. We did foot marches, we did long runs, a lot of full body workouts. But we also had to put the mental aspect into it because that’s huge with this competition. You have to spend long hours and miss time with your family as you’re going through all this stuff.”

Miller’s message to the NCO corps was, “We have to continue training Soldiers. Be there. Day in and day out, be that leader. Be a mentor. Be that coach.”

After the many months of preparation, hearing his name announced as the 2015 Army Reserve Drill Sergeant of the Year felt like a relief for Mercer.

The winners of the 2015 Drill Sergeant and AIT Platoon Sergeant competition pose after being announced the winners. They are, from left, Staff Sgt. Jacob Miller, Drill Sergeant of the Year; Staff Sgt. Mark Mercer, Army Reserve Drill Sergeant of the Year; and Sgt. 1st Class Samuel Enriquez, AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year. (Photo by Clifford Kyle Jones / NCO Journal)
Competitors in the 2015 Drill Sergeant and AIT Platoon Sergeant competition stand at attention after being announced as winners. They are, from left, Staff Sgt. Jacob Miller, Drill Sergeant of the Year; Staff Sgt. Mark Mercer, Army Reserve Drill Sergeant of the Year; and Sgt. 1st Class Samuel Enriquez, AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year. (Photo by Clifford Kyle Jones / NCO Journal)

“It was a lot of weight, a lot of pressure taken off my shoulders,” Mercer said. “I’ve been prepping for this for 10 months. Hours of study every day and physical activity every day, just trying to absorb as much as I could. Seeing the hard work pay off was a huge relief. I know my wife was relieved. She was happy that I could stop studying. Maybe we can spend some more time together now. It was relief and excitement all wrapped up together.

“Preparation was key,” he said. “I prepared every day. As far as the physical stuff, I had some hiccups with my legs, but I just kept grinding it out, pushing through it, knowing that if I did what I needed to do and demonstrated what I knew, I could be here.”

Mercer’s recommendation to the NCO corps was, “Always strive to be better. There is always something that you don’t know. Always look to exceed the current standard. Set a new standard for people to look at.”

Enriquez faced the most competitors, with seven others competing against him for the title of 2015 AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year. So hearing his name called came as a shock, he said.

Cadre cheers as Sgt. 1st Class Heidi Anne Hartman finishes the 12-mile ruck march as part of the 2015 AIT Platoon Sergeant competition. (Photo by Clifford Kyle Jones / NCO Journal)
Soldiers cheer as Sgt. 1st Class Heidi Anne Hartman finishes the 12-mile ruck march during the 2015 AIT Platoon Sergeant competition. Hartman won the 1st Sgt. Tobias Meister Award, which goes to the competitor who achieved the highest score on the Army Physical Fitness Test.  (Photo by Clifford Kyle Jones / NCO Journal)

“I was honestly surprised,” Enriquez said. “I felt competitive, but I felt like there were a lot of people who were also competitive, so I wasn’t quite sure. I wasn’t doubting my skills, but I knew there were some other pretty strong people out there, as well. When they called my name, it didn’t feel real.”

Enriquez said his message to the NCO corps was, “Keep doing what you’re doing. I know you don’t always get the praise you deserve, but someone out there appreciates you. Just because you don’t get the praise doesn’t mean you can stop working.”

Also announced Thursday night was the winner of the 1st Sgt. Tobias Meister Award, which went to the competitor who achieved the highest score on the Army Physical Fitness Test. The test took place Wednesday night after a grinding day. Sgt. 1st Class Heidi A. Hartman, AIT platoon sergeant for Company C, 1-81 Armor Battalion, Fort Benning, Ga., took the coveted award.

NCO competitors persevere with ‘determination and grit’

Previously in The NCO Journal:

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By JONATHAN (JAY) KOESTER
NCO Journal

As the 2015 Drill Sergeant and AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year competitions continued for a third day Wednesday, the competitors were feeling the effects of being pushed to their limits.

The noncommissioned officers were all dealing with heat, humidity and a blistering pace of events. Several had bandages covering up blisters and bruises. But none were giving up.

Sgt. 1st Class Samuel Enriquez crawls through the end of an obstacle course during the third day of the 2015 AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year competition at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. (Photo by Clifford Kyle Jones / NCO Journal)
Sgt. 1st Class Samuel Enriquez crawls through the end of an obstacle course during the third day of the 2015 AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year competition at Fort Jackson, S.C. (Photos by Clifford Kyle Jones / NCO Journal)

Staff Sgt. Michael Johnson, AIT Platoon Sergeant, Company H, 1st Battalion, 222nd Aviation Regiment, Fort Eustis, Va., said the AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year competition had been tough … and he knew the road wasn’t getting easier.

“It has been quite a bit harder than what I expected,” Johnson said. “From the previous boards that I’ve done, there’s a lot more going on. Maybe the first day and a half is about all we did in a full week in the other boards, so it’s definitely a lot.

“We still have the 12-mile ruck march, so that’s going to be extremely challenging after all this,” Johnson said. “It’s physically very draining to do something like that, even when you’re fully prepared and ready, let alone after you’ve done everything that we’ve already gone through.”

Going through the competition’s events had been humbling, Johnson said.

“I’ve learned that I still have a lot to learn,” he said. “Although I have learned a lot in the past 18 months as a platoon sergeant, I still have a long way to go to be the best.”

Staff Sgt. Michael Johnson navigates an obstacle course during the third day of the 2015 AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year competition. (Photo by Clifford Kyle Jones / NCO Journal)
Staff Sgt. Michael Johnson navigates an obstacle course during the third day of the 2015 AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year competition.

After going late into the night Tuesday doing night land navigation, the competitors were back up and in formation at 3:45 a.m. Wednesday. After a five-mile run, they went through exercises that graded their skills at teaching young Soldiers Physical Readiness Training, including the proper way to handle a Soldier who drops out and refuses to train.

In the afternoon, the 14 competitors were put through tasks that put them to the test in a variety of ways. At one station, the challenge would be physical, such as completing an obstacle course. The next stage would test them mentally, with written tests or an interview with the media.

Sgt. 1st Class Thomas Russell, last year’s AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year, said he is impressed by what he has seen this year.

“We send them through some physical tasks, get them worn down, get them tired, get them exhausted,” Russell said. “Then, we throw in some mental tasks to test them to see how they react when they’re exhausted, see how they cope with that.

“I’ve been seeing a lot of determination and grit,” he said. “I’ve seen people powering through some things that would otherwise probably stop them.”

At the end of a full day of taxing physical and mental exercises, what did the competing NCOs have to look forward to Wednesday night? An Army Physical Fitness Test.

There is no way the challenge of the events could be completed without using what he had learned about the Army’s Performance Triad, said Sgt. 1st Class Samuel Enriquez, AIT Platoon Sergeant, Company D, 232nd Medical Battalion, 32nd Medical Brigade, Fort Sam Houston, Texas.

Sgt. 1st Class Heidi Anne Hartman comes out from a crawl during the third day of the 2015 AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year competition. (Photo by Clifford Kyle Jones / NCO Journal)
Sgt. 1st Class Heidi Anne Hartman comes out from a crawl during the third day of the 2015 AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year competition.

“We tell our Soldiers to be physically and mentally tough, and we push them,” Enriquez said. “We talk to them about good nutrition to reinforce their physical and mental strength. We tell them to get sleep. It’s the Performance Triad: eat, sleep and exercise. I’m going to tell you right now, if I didn’t practice the Performance Triad, I would not be able to do what I’m doing right now. I think what the Army reinforces really helps you.

“I expected a lot of physical adversity,” he said. “I expected to be drained. And I expected to find out a lot of stuff I didn’t know. But what I didn’t know surprised me. Some of the stuff I didn’t feel quite confident in, I was actually quite good at, and some of the stuff I felt I should be an expert at came back and surprised me. It’s a difficult competition.”

Staff Sgt. Claudia Collazo, AIT platoon sergeant, Battery B, 3rd Battalion, 6th Air Defense Artillery, Fort Sill, Okla., said she has been using thoughts of her family to inspire her to continue in the difficult competition.

“I expected it to be hard,” Collazo said. “It should be that way because we only want the best. Whoever that is, they deserve it. A lot of things I never thought I could do, I’m actually doing, so that’s pretty cool.”

Staff Sgt. Jonathan Murray, AIT Platoon Sergeant, Company C, 369th Signal Battalion, 15th Regimental Signal Brigade, Fort Gordon, Ga., said watching all the competitors overcome the challenges has been inspiring.

Staff Sgt. Michael Johnson, at left, leads Soldiers through a room-clearing exercise as part of the 2015 AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year competition. (Photo by Clifford Kyle Jones / NCO Journal)
Staff Sgt. Michael Johnson, left, leads Soldiers through a room-clearing exercise as part of the 2015 AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year competition.

“It’s been physically harder than I originally anticipated,” Murray said. “There are a lot of things here that threw me off — not that that deterred me or demotivated me — they just kind of threw me off, and I think that’s a great thing in competitions. They get you outside your comfort zone.

“This competition inspires me because you’re coming together with all the best platoon sergeants from their respective installations, so you know if you’re coming to this competition, it’s going to be a real competition,” he said. “I want to be the best, like any other NCO, or any person with drive and motivation. I’m going to take my skill set, throw it out there against the best competitors, and see where I measure up.”

The gravity of the duty of a drill sergeant is what kept Staff Sgt. Russell Vidler inspired to compete. Vidler, of Company A, 2nd Battalion, 389th Regiment, 4th Brigade, 98th Division, was competing to be named the Army Reserve Drill Sergeant of the Year.

“The pace is probably a little more than I expected, but it’s been a great competition,” Vidler said. “All the competitors are top notch. It’s living up to its name.

“Drill sergeant is the most important job in the Army,” he said. “We set the baseline for all Soldiers at all times, but especially in combat. I remember specific times when I was deployed when after the fact I was like, ‘Wow, my drill sergeant just saved my life,’ because it was what he taught me that I used. It’s pretty awesome how we can affect change.”

Staff Sgt. Claudia Collazo instructs young Soldiers how to march during the third day of the 2015 AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year competition at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. (Photo by Clifford Kyle Jones / NCO Journal)
Staff Sgt. Claudia Collazo instructs young Soldiers on how to march during the third day of the 2015 AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year competition at Fort Jackson, S.C.

Sgt. 1st Class Dimario Habersham, AIT platoon sergeant for 5th Platoon, Company B, 344th MI Battalion at Goodfellow Air Force Base, Texas, said the challenges of the event had helped rejuvenate him.

“I feel more invigorated with each event,” Habersham said. “It forces me to remain on my toes both mentally and physically. What I’m finding is, as I go through each one, I begin to realize that self-doubt really has no place. Because I’m fully capable and fully competent to tackle all of these tasks to standard and exceed standard on several occasions. I feel great. I feel like I’m improving as the competition goes by, and that’s my goal.”

For Staff Sgt. Eric Hulien, Company E, 3rd Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment, who was competing to be Drill Sergeant of the Year, the competition must have felt like the Super Bowl. Because like every star athlete after a big event, when it was done, he was heading to Disney World.

“I’m going to Disney World on Saturday. Seriously,” Hulien said. “Saturday through Monday, I’m going to Disney World with my family, so I’m looking forward to that. I’m not looking forward to probably still being sore at that point, but my wife said she would drive the whole way, so I’m looking forward to resting then.”