Tag Archives: NCO of the Year

Oregon National Guard looks to include Air Guard in Best Warrior

By JONATHAN (JAY) KOESTER
NCO Journal

The U.S. Army Best Warrior competition is scheduled to begin Sept. 26 at Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia, with 20 competitors vying to be named NCO of the Year and Soldier of the Year.

Receiving less attention are the many state-, regional- and national-level competitions that lead up to the big event in Virginia. Around the country, leaders are testing their NCOs and Soldiers in innovative ways to discover their Best Warriors.

Recently, the Oregon Army National Guard had its Best Warrior competition at Camp Rilea, Oregon. The NCO leadership in the Oregon National Guard works hard to make the competition challenging. They hope the effort allows the winners to build on their successes as they compete regionally and nationally. Master Sgt. Geoffrey Miotke, ammunition manager and competitive sports program manager for the Oregon National Guard, said he is proud of the results of past competitions, with the winners often going on to further victories.

“I believe my job is to find out who can still perform when they are dog tired,” Miotke said. “They’re mentally fatigued, they’re physically fatigued, but who can still perform? Who is the best? It’s a long three-day event.”

One of the innovations Miotke is working toward is having competitors from the Air National Guard join the Army National Guard competition. To that end, a liaison team from the Air Force worked with Miotke and Sgt. 1st Class Scott Nyquist, quota source manager for the Oregon National Guard, to learn about the competition and find ways to make it a joint one next year.

“The problem we have is my stuff is Army-centric, obviously,” Miotke said. “The Air Force does not have some of our capabilities or the equipment they would need to be familiar with. So some of their senior leaders are going to work with me during the setup and running of this year’s competition, so they have a better understanding of what their Airmen will be required to do come next year.

“I’ll provide them a lot of documentation from the Army side of the house, so they can actually participate and have a chance to win,” Miotke said. “They are going to provide me information from the Air Force side that my Army Soldiers don’t do, so that we can combine it next year and actually make it completely joint. It’s joint-run this year, but not joint competitor-wise yet.”

Second Lt. Daniel Hicks of the Oregon Air National Guard’s 116th Air Control Squadron, 142nd Fighter Wing, at Camp Rilea was part of the team helping run the Oregon National Guard Best Warrior competition from Aug. 18-20. He said there isn’t a similar competition in the Air National Guard. After a couple of days, he was impressed by what the event brought out in the competitors, and he was looking forward to the Air Guard taking part.

“I think it’s phenomenal,” Hicks said. “I think it’s a good way to develop the warrior ethos that we speak about all the time. It’s an amazing way to develop a joint relationship for now and in the future, because a lot of these folks are going to be future leaders. I just like the chance for people to get out there, push themselves, develop some fortitude and just challenge themselves.

“Obviously the joint relationship is good,” Hicks added. “But even among our own services, we tend to pigeonhole ourselves by occupational specialty. Anytime you can get the different career fields challenging each other and working together, I think it only breeds better camaraderie and a more successful Army and Air Guard.”

As the competition kicked off, Command Sgt. Maj. Shane Lake, Oregon’s command senior enlisted leader, talked to the competitors about the move toward a joint competition.

“Everything we can do that’s joint and broadening is important,” Lake said. “At your level, you’re fighting your missions at the company level. That’s all you really need to worry about. But if you’re in this room right now, I hope you are looking at becoming something bigger and better in your organization. You’ve already proven you are. The Airmen who are going to start showing up are also those leaders. So in 10 or 15 years, when you’re command sergeants major, you are going to remember each other from this. So this small event is actually incorporating some strategic visions for the next 10 years.”

Lake challenged the competitors not to give up during what was sure to be a difficult three days, telling them the memories would be worth the pain.

“You are going to compete this weekend,” Lake said. “But at the end of the day, we also need to build together as a team. You notice in life that the tougher the competition, the tougher a point in life, you remember it more. … After this event, you are going to be social media buddies for the rest of your life. I encourage that.”

Lake ended his talk to the competitors with a phrase that became an oft-repeated motto during the competition: “Remember, false motivation is still motivation.”

At the end of three days of physical and mental challenges, ruck marches, obstacle courses, blindfolded weapon checks, written tests and more, Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Ash of 1st Battalion, 186th Infantry Regiment, 41st Infantry Brigade Combat Team, was named Oregon National Guard NCO of the Year, while Spc. Mitchell Sierra, also of the 1-186th, 41st IBCT, was named Soldier of the Year.

Ash said testing himself during events such as Best Warrior is one of the reasons he loves being a Soldier. Perhaps more surprising, he was able to call the competition “fun” while being treated for a bleeding foot blister soon after he completed a grueling obstacle course.

“This forces you to push yourself,” Ash said. “This is where you might have thought your wall was, but it’s actually not. You break through that and keep pushing. We’re competitive by nature. A lot of us are ‘Type A’ personalities or we wouldn’t even be here at this level competing. It’s fun because … if you want to be the best, you have to compete against the best. That’s what we are out here doing.”

With Ash and Sierra now moving on to a regional competition early next year, Master Sgt. Scott Stimpson, first sergeant of the Oregon National Guard Recruit Sustainment Program, had advice for them. In 2014, Stimpson was the Oregon National Guard NCO of the Year and he went on to win the regional and national National Guard competitions, as well.

“The biggest thing the competitors need to do is incorporate the Army lifestyle into their every day,” Stimpson said. “Go hike Silver Creek Falls here in Oregon with a rucksack on. Go take your family out on a walk around the track: You go sprint one lap, then walk a lap with your kids.

“At the actual competition … I’ll give you my secret of how I knew the people who weren’t going to win,” Stimpson said. “That first event, or that first 9-mile ruck march, there are people on the side who say, ‘There are a lot more events, I need to save myself for some of the other events.’ They never place. You go 110 percent, full throttle, every single event.

“Finally, compete against yourself,” Stimpson said. “Do your own personal records, and go out there and break them. Because you can’t control what the other competitors are doing or how they prepared. When you compete against other people, you always end up bitter with the result. When you compete against yourself, you are always going to get better. That’s what I learned from my competitions.”

Good advice, as NCOs and Soldiers throughout the Army compete to be named Best Warrior, and it all comes to fruition beginning Sept. 26 in Virginia.

 

(All photos by Jonathan (Jay) Koester / NCO Journal)

Fort Sill Drill Sergeant of the Year will be a ‘force to be reckoned with’ in TRADOC competition

By MEGHAN PORTILLO
NCO Journal

A year ago, Staff Sgt. Dustin Randall had plans to join Special Forces. Little did he know that in the span of a few short months, he would instead graduate from drill sergeant school at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, be inducted into the Sergeant Audie Murphy Club and selected as NCO of the Month, NCO of the Quarter and then Fort Sill’s 2016 Drill Sergeant of the Year. He now has his sights set on the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command and U.S. Army Drill Sergeant of the Year competitions.

“I absolutely see him going on to TRADOC DSOY and Army DSOY,” said 1st Sgt. Shandrel Stewart of B Battery, 1st Battalion, 79th Field Artillery Regiment, 434th Field Artillery Brigade, who recommended him for the Drill Sergeant of the Year competition. “I think he can win it all. I don’t know who the competition is, but Drill Sgt. Randall is a force to be reckoned with. The other competitors are going to have to be on their A-game, and they are going to have to bring it.”

Randall said he is excited about competing in the TRADOC Drill Sergeant of the Year competition in September.

“I don’t think I will ever have another opportunity in my whole career to do something like this,” Randall said. “I definitely don’t want to look back on it four or five months from now and say, ‘I wish I had given more effort,’ or ‘I wish I had studied more.’ It’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance, so I’m going to give it all I’ve got. Hopefully when they call the winner’s name it will be mine. We’ll see.”

Preparing for the competition

“Drill Sgt. Randall is very competitive,” Stewart said. “He will say that he is not, but everything is a competition. He does not like losing, and he is very goal-oriented. You always hear people saying, ‘Oh, I don’t care if I win or lose.’ Drill Sgt. Randall has a way of making you care, making you want to compete with him, making you want to say, ‘Hey, if he did it, then I know I can do it.’”

Randall found time to study for the Fort Sill competition even during the “red phase” of basic training, when drill sergeants – usually two per platoon – are with their Soldiers from 4:45 a.m. until 9 p.m. or later. They get their Soldiers out of bed, lead them in physical training, accompany them to the chow hall for meals and run them through the training events for the day. In the evenings, drill sergeants can be found cleaning weapons, inspecting gear and helping Soldiers deal with personal issues. And then the next day, it’s “wash, rinse, repeat,” Randall said.

“Even though we were still in red phase, he found time,” Stewart said. “He kept 3-by-5 cards in his pocket and studied, studied, studied. During lunch, he studied, studied. So many would have made excuses, but he found the time.”

Randall knew the competition could test him on any task drill sergeants teach their Soldiers. Staff Sgt. Franco Peralta, Fort Sill’s former Drill Sergeant of the Year, designed this year’s competition at Fort Sill to emulate what he experienced last year in the TRADOC Drill Sergeant of the Year competition. Competitors completed a 12-mile foot march, were tested on multiple basic tasks and were placed in simulations of real-life scenarios.

“Situations you think would not be tested, they can throw in there,” Randall said. “For example, we were doing a recovery drill for PT – kind of a cool-down stretch at the end – and one of the Soldiers takes a knee and says she just can’t do it anymore. She wants to quit; she is having all these issues back home. So we were evaluated on our approach – they call it ‘taking off the hat.’ You can’t always be stern. Sometimes you have to show them you are also human and care for their needs. You’ve got to coach them through it and get them back in the fight.”

Taking pride in an important job

Though being a drill sergeant was not what he had planned for this stage of his career, Randall said he takes so much pride in being the face of the Army for new Soldiers. The best part of his job, he said, is seeing not only the drastic change in the Soldiers by the time they graduate from basic combat training, but the drastic change in their futures.

“The Soldiers who come here with nothing else – they were sleeping in a car before they got here, they had no money, no job – that’s kind of how I was when I came into the Army. Just seeing that person transform and have an enormous amount of opportunities when they leave here, that’s my favorite part of this job,” Randall said. “It’s amazing to see those underprivileged individuals come in and realize that hard work pays off, that when they leave here they will definitely have a better life.”

On the other hand, he said, the hardest part of the job is seeing individuals come through who really want to be there, but who ultimately don’t make the cut.

“In the cycle I just graduated, there was one – she was in military intelligence, very smart, I could tell she wanted to be here. She gave 110 percent, but when she first came in she couldn’t do one sit-up. She made progress; she got up to three, and then to seven. But 21 sit-ups is the minimum required on the PT test, so she had to chapter out of the military. It’s hard to see. You coach them, and you want them to succeed, but even though a drill sergeant is there 18 hours a day, they can’t do the work for them.”

Across the board, though, no matter how much a Soldier struggles through basic combat training, they come to admire their drill sergeant, Randall said.

“If you ask any Soldier who they think the best drill sergeant is on this post, they will tell you it’s their drill sergeant,” Randall said. “They may not say that during the first three or four weeks of BCT, but there is something about the last 4-and-a-half weeks – a transformation to where they really want to be like their drill sergeant. Their drill sergeant is the best and can do no wrong. On graduation day, everybody wants to take pictures with their drill sergeant. I think it’s because, deep down, they know their drill sergeant had their best intentions at heart from the get go. Looking back, they know he or she was looking out for them, turning them into a better person.”

Drill sergeants play such an important role in shaping the future Army, and Randall said he is honored to have been selected as the standard-bearer for the drill sergeants at Fort Sill.

“Day in and day out, I am setting the example for all of the drill sergeants to follow,” Randall said. “I’m mentoring, guiding them as needed. And I am the liaison between the drill sergeants and the command team. So anything they need, anything I can do to make their job easier, that’s what I’m here for.”

Randall has plans to create a drill-sergeant parliament to get all of the battalions on the same page. The Drill Sergeant of the Year has the ear of the sergeant major, Stewart explained, and if Randall can get all of the drill sergeants to agree on a need or issue, he can better facilitate a change.

Stewart said she hopes the drill sergeants at Fort Sill learn a lot from Randall during his year as drill sergeant of the year: self-discipline, going by the book, prioritizing their time.

“He is the total 360 of what they are looking for in an NCO,” Stewart said. “He leads by the book, has a very strong presence. He is very knowledgeable, whether we are talking about weapons, drill and ceremony, field operations. He knows it all. He was the prime candidate. He had so many ideas he wanted to bring to the table, things in the program for the drill sergeants in general that he wanted to change. I hate that I lost him, but I’m glad he won it. It was time for him to grow. He was the best person for the job, and I’m not even surprised that he got it. I knew he was going to win it.”

Staff Sgt. Dustin Randall, Fort Sill’s Drill Sergeant of the Year, is already preparing for the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command Drill Sergeant of the Year competition in September.  “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance, so I’m going to give it all I’ve got,” Randall said. (Photo by Meghan Portillo / NCO Journal)
Staff Sgt. Dustin Randall, Fort Sill’s Drill Sergeant of the Year, is already preparing for the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command Drill Sergeant of the Year competition in September. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance, so I’m going to give it all I’ve got,” Randall said. (Photo by Meghan Portillo / NCO Journal)

2015 NCO of the Year was motivated by setting example for his Soldiers

By CLIFFORD KYLE JONES
NCO Journal

Sgt. 1st Class Andrew Fink first entered the 2015 NCO of the Year competition to inspire his Soldiers in the Army Reserve to great things.

“I’m a platoon sergeant, and I wanted to show them that being a reservist and being in the Reserves doesn’t mean that you can’t compete at a high level,” he said during a visit to Fort Bliss in November. “I wanted to be that leader and that example that they could look to to inspire them to go outside their comfort zone as a reservist and to be successful.”

Sgt. 1st Class Andrew Fink speaks to Class 66 of the Sergeants Major Course in November at the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy. (Photo by Clifford Kyle Jones / NCO Journal)
Sgt. 1st Class Andrew Fink speaks to Class 66 of the Sergeants Major Course in November at the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy. (Photo by Clifford Kyle Jones / NCO Journal)

It seems to have worked. In the months since he won the competition at Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia, one of his Soldiers has already been inspired.

“I had one of my Soldiers come up to me and say that he wanted to re-enlist if I would be able to sponsor him for next year’s competition,” Fink said.

Fink, a medic with the 409th Area Support Medical Company, 307th Medical Brigade, 807th Medical Command, in Madison, Wisconsin, represented U.S. Army Reserve Command at the annual competition that also selects the Best Warrior. He competed against representatives from 12 other commands.

“They’re just great NCOs and competitors all around,” Fink said of the 26 Soldiers and NCOs who participated at Fort A.P. Hill. “Everybody had a chance at the end to win, I was just lucky enough to come out on top.”

Fink was visiting Fort Bliss with Command Sgt. Maj. Luther Thomas Jr., senior enlisted advisor for the Army Reserve. They spoke to members of Class 66 of the Sergeants Major Course at the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy about the importance of the Reserve component to Army operations.

Fink was an active-duty member of the 75th Ranger Regiment of Fort Benning, Georgia, and deployed to Afghanistan twice as a combat medic with the 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment.

“I hesitantly transitioned into the Reserves after my four-year stint on active duty was complete in order to finish my degree and, honestly, so that I wouldn’t be recalled,” he told members of Class 66. “The [Active Component to Reserve Component] career counselor gave me a stabilization contract so that I couldn’t be deployed and I would be able to focus on finishing my bachelor’s degree.

Students in the Sergeants Major Course greet Sgt. 1st Class Andrew Fink after the 2015 NCO of the Year spoke to Class 66 in November at the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy. (Photo by Clifford Kyle Jones / NCO Journal)
Students in the Sergeants Major Course greet Sgt. 1st Class Andrew Fink after the 2015 NCO of the Year spoke to Class 66 in November at the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy. (Photo by Clifford Kyle Jones / NCO Journal)

“I say ‘hesitantly,’ because I think anyone who has ever served on active duty either doesn’t know what the Army Reserve is about or has at some point heard the bad impressions of some — not all — in the active component have” of the Reserves.

It turned out, though, that the Reserves were exactly what Fink needed.

“I certainly had no intention of staying in the Reserves, but I would not be standing here before you today if it were not for the Army Reserve, …” he told members of Class 66. “I had lost something when I left active duty, and the Army Reserve enabled me to regain a sense of purpose and pride that civilian life alone could not do.”

He credited a sergeant first class with working with him when he first started in the Reserves and gradually increasing his responsibilities until he was fully engaged. When an opportunity arose to return to full-time duty with the Active Guard Reserve, he took it.

Fink — and his Soldiers — are glad he did.

When he first flew back to Wisconsin after being named NCO of the Year, Fink said a large group greeted him.

“My whole full-time staff picked me up from the airport, which was awesome to see,” he said. “It was in front of all the civilians (at the airport), and they didn’t really know what was going on.”

Later, he was recognized in a larger ceremony.

“To be able to share that experience with them in battle assembly, to kind of share the win with them — they were the majority of the reason why I was competing — and to have it brought home to the 409th and represent, it was a special thing,” Fink said.

Thomas was especially proud of Fink’s win, noting that representatives from the Army Reserve Command have taken the NCO of the Year title home two of the past three years.

“When I travel, I get the opportunity to meet Army Reserve Soldiers,” Thomas said, “and these Soldiers are doing some phenomenal things.”

Fink credits the support of his command and his training, both in the active and Reserve components, with helping him win the competition.

His command gave him “the resources and trainers that enabled me to get to that level.”

His time in Advanced Individual Training and then Ranger School laid the foundations for his success in both the Reserves and the Best Warrior Competition, he said, noting that the competition consists of nothing beyond Level I or II basic combat skills.

And his time in AGR prepared him to deal with the stresses of competition.

“Being an AGR Soldier, I am asked to wear many hats,” Fink said. “This gives me a breadth of knowledge that most Soldiers would not necessarily have.”

As a platoon sergeant for Soldiers coming in on their Reserve training days and the training operations NCO during the week, he said, he’s learned time management and the ability to “execute without instruction, which came in handy during my time in the Best Warrior Competition.”

He has said this year’s competition came with several surprises.

“We did a prone, unsupported zero with our M4 rifles,” Fink said. “Typically, every Soldier is used to zeroing in the prone, supported position, so that was a little surprising. In another lane we had to crawl through a tunnel system, gather some intelligence the commander wanted, then they called, ‘Gas! Gas! Gas!’ so we had to put on our protective mask and then file our report on what we observed.”

He said the scenarios they encountered throughout the competition were “incredible” and he praised the Asymmetric Warfare Group for “testing and training us.” The AWG coordinated the competition for the first time last year.

His toughest challenges in the competition were common Soldier tasks, though.

He said that, physically, the 12-mile ruck march that took place on the last day of the competition was his toughest event, because he’s a little shorter than many of his competitors.

“The most mentally challenging event for me was probably the board,” he said. “Going in front of the sergeant major of the Army and all these other high-ranking sergeants major, you think you’re ready for it until you walk in that door. It’s kind of a mental trap.”

Still, he took the advice he regularly gives to his Soldiers and persevered.

“Keep driving on and never give up,” he said. “That’s what I always tell my Soldiers. Be committed to excellence each and every day. There are going to be setbacks, but giving your best every day is what’s important.”

The Army News Service contributed to this story.

Photos from the NCO of the Year competition courtesy of 55th Combat Camera

CSM tells new sergeants major importance of leadership, Reserves

By CLIFFORD KYLE JONES
NCO Journal

As the senior enlisted advisor of the Army Reserve component, Command Sgt. Maj. Luther Thomas Jr. has seen first-hand how important Reserve Soldiers are to the total Army’s operations and how reservists’ diverse skills benefit the service.

Soon, Thomas will take a new position as the senior enlisted adviser to the assistant secretary of defense for Manpower and Reserve Affairs. It’s a position that will influence not only the Army Reserve component, but also the rest of the Army and other services.

Going into that position, though, Thomas will keep in mind the impact of Reserve Soldiers.

Command Sgt. Maj. Luther Thomas Jr., senior enlisted advisor for the Army Reserve, congratulated the members of the Nonresidents Sergeants Major Course during the Class 1-16 graduation ceremony last month at the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy at Fort Bliss, Texas. (Photo by Clifford Kyle Jones / NCO Journal)
Command Sgt. Maj. Luther Thomas Jr., senior enlisted advisor for the Army Reserve, congratulated the members of the Nonresidents Sergeants Major Course during the Class 1-16 graduation ceremony last month at the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy at Fort Bliss, Texas. (Photo by Clifford Kyle Jones / NCO Journal)

“When I travel, I get the opportunity to meet Army Reserve Soldiers, and these Soldiers are doing some phenomenal things,” Thomas said in an interview with the NCO Journal. “And their commanders are always saying we can’t do what we do without the support of the Army Reserve.”

Thomas mentioned that on a recent visit to Alaska, for instance, he met a first sergeant who is a medical doctor in his civilian role and a specialist who works as a commercial pilot. That civilian experience can bring new perspective to Army problems, Thomas said.

“A lot of times when [Reservists] see a problem, they look at it from a multitude of ways from their civilian skill set,” he said. “The active folks who have only been Soldiers may not have that same background to look at a problem from a different angle and come up with a different solution.”

Thomas visited the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy, at Fort Bliss, Texas, last month and spoke to the graduating Class 1-16 of the Nonresidents Sergeants Major Course. He also spoke to members of Class 66 of the residential Sergeants Major Course.

He had separate but related messages for each of them.

He spoke to members of the Nonresidents Course about the importance of leadership and being able to lead through change.

“Leadership is important, regardless of the organization you belong to,” Thomas said after his speeches. “In the Army Reserve, it’s especially important, because we are for the most part, an organization where the overwhelming majority of our folks are on duty for two days a month and about two weeks out of the year for a grand total of 39 days. But as leaders in the Army Reserve, they work far more than just 39 days a year. … It’s a full-time job as a leader in the Army Reserve. If the leader is not tracking what’s going on, there’s no way the unit can be successful.”

Thomas told the graduates of the Nonresidents Course, “There is no doubt that we have the best manned, best trained and best led army on the planet. If we are to fight and win — and we will win — in a complex world, our overwhelming advantage is leadership.”

He described several telltale signs of a great leader — seeking out people who are more talented than themselves; taking responsibility rather than blaming subordinates or circumstances; performing under pressure and having the grit to overcome obstacles; striking a balance between being optimistic enough to be inspirational but not so optimistic as to be overconfident or unrealistic; having empathy for others; keeping open lines of communication between subordinates, peers and superiors; and being able to turn plans into action.

However, Thomas spent the most time telling the soon-to-be-minted sergeants major about one of the most important traits of a good leader: integrity.

“Soldiers look for integrity in a leader,” Thomas said. “This means confidence that a person will do the right thing with the best interest of the group in mind, even though it might not be in the leader’s own best interest.”

As leaders, Thomas also prepared the members of the nonresidents course for what would be one of their most difficult and most frequent challenges — leading change.

Noting that change is a constant, especially in the Army, Thomas said that to take their Soldiers successfully through transitions, the new sergeants major have to be effective listeners, develop their planning skills and be able to anticipate outcomes, obstacles and objections.

“As leaders, we must be able to use disruption as an opportunity to grow as an organization and guide our teams through the process to make changes as smooth as possible,” he said.

When Thomas spoke to the largely active-duty members of the Class of 66, his message shifted from inspirational to educational.

Thomas told Class 66 that his intent was “to get you to understand why the Army Reserve is not only important to the total force, but also why it’s important to you as future sergeants major that you understand what the Army Reserve’s mission is so that you can better understand how the Army Reserve can assist you.”

Thomas noted that many services the Army requires are provided by members of the Reserve component, including the majority of medical services, legal counseling, chaplain services, civil affairs, quartermasters, engineering support and military policing.

“There’s a whole lot of stuff that the active Army can’t do without the Army Reserve,” Thomas said.

Command Sgt. Maj. Luther Thomas Jr. answers questions from last month from members of Sergeant Major Course Class 66 at the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy at Fort Bliss, Texas. He was joined by Staff Sgt. Andrew Fink (left), the 2015 NCO of the Year, and Staff Sgt. Mark Mercer, the 2015 Reserve Drill Sergeant of the Year. (Photo by Clifford Kyle Jones / NCO Journal)
Command Sgt. Maj. Luther Thomas Jr. answers questions from last month from members of Sergeant Major Course Class 66 at the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy at Fort Bliss, Texas. He was joined by Staff Sgt. Andrew Fink (left), the 2015 NCO of the Year, and Staff Sgt. Mark Mercer, the 2015 Reserve Drill Sergeant of the Year. (Photo by Clifford Kyle Jones / NCO Journal)

The Army Reserve plays an outsize role among the services, as well. It’s larger than the Marine, Air Force and Navy Reserve components combined. And it’s larger than the entire Marine Corps. In addition to explaining the role of the Reserve component, Thomas wanted to remind these future sergeants major to remind their Soldiers about it as they transition out of active duty.

“We’re going to always have a place for good Soldiers, and we’re going to always need good Soldiers,” Thomas said.

Two of those good Soldiers accompanied Thomas to his address at the academy. Staff Sgt. Mark Mercer of Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, was recently named the 2015 Army Reserve Drill Sergeant of the Year, and Staff Sgt. Andrew Fink, a Reservist from Madison, Wisconsin, won the 2015 NCO of the Year competition.

Mercer and Fink talked about the role the Reserves had played in their successes, and their backstories outline two of the primary routes Soldiers take to the Reserves.

Mercer joined the Reserves to help pay for college. Just out of high school, he wanted to enlist as an 11B infantryman. However, his father insisted he choose a military occupational specialty that he could use in a professional capacity in the civilian world. He became an X-ray technician. After 67 weeks of Advanced Individual Training, he started his part-time Reserve duties and attended the University of Oklahoma.

“Now in hindsight, being 31 years old, my dad was right,” Mercer said. “That’s what I needed to do. It provides for my family. I ended up graduating from OU with a bachelor’s, which I don’t use, because X-ray tech pays more than what I got my degree in.”

He attended drill sergeant school in 2009, and after working in that role for a few years, decided to compete in the Drill Sergeant of the Year competition at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.

“My goal was to not only be the Army Reserve Drill Sergeant of the Year, but to make it so close, even though they don’t compete against each other, that the active-duty component would not be able to tell the difference,” he said. “Because I’m not a Reserve Soldier. I am a Soldier.”

Fink took the other route. He was an active-duty combat medic and a member of the 75th Ranger Regiment before joining the Reserve component when he left active-duty to get his bachelor’s degree.

“I had lost something when I left active duty, and the Army Reserve enabled me to regain a sense of purpose and pride that civilian life alone could not do,” he said.

He used tools from both his time in the active-duty and Reserve components to excel at the NCO of the Year competition. The attention to detail enforced during his AIT and Ranger training ensured that he had mastered the basic skills tested during the competition, and the responsibility and leadership traits he has developed as a Reservist helped him persevere during some of the more rigorous and sometimes ambiguous events.

Fink said that at first, because of some lingering stigma, he was hesitant about joining the Reserve component.

“I certainly had no intentions of staying in the Reserves, but I would not be standing here before you today if it were not for the Army Reserve,” he said. “Great leaders exist in the Army Reserve, just like they do in the Ranger Regiment, just like they do in all Army units, regardless of their component.”

2015 Soldier of the Year is already eyeing his next title

NCO Journal staff report

Spc. Jared Tansley wasn’t surprised to be on the stage at the Sergeant Major of the Army’s Awards Luncheon on Monday. And he expects to be back soon.

 

Spc. Jared R. Tansley is the 2015 Soldier of the Year. The 11B infantryman is with 3rd Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment, in Vilseck, Germany. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Army Europe.)
Spc. Jared R. Tansley is the 2015 Soldier of the Year. The 11B infantryman is with 3rd Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment, in Vilseck, Germany. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Army Europe.)

The 11B infantryman with 3rd Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment, in Vilseck, Germany, was named the winner of this year’s Best Warrior Competition. He represented U.S. Army Europe.

“I always thought I would (win), because I was going to push myself forward and eventually accomplish as much as I can,” he said in an interview after being named the Soldier of the Year. “And hopefully I can get the NCO of the Year in 2016.”

This year’s NCO of the Year wasn’t always quite as confident about his success.

“They’re just great NCOs and competitors all around,” Staff Sgt. Andrew Fink said of the 26 Soldiers and NCOs who competed from the Army’s 13 commands. “Everybody had a chance at the end to win, I was just lucky enough to come out on top.”

Fink, a medic with the 409th Area Support Medical Company in Madison, Wisconsin, represented U.S. Army Reserve Command.

 

Staff Sgt. Andrew Fink, the 2015 NCO of the Year, accepts his award from Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey (left) and Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Daniel B. Allyn. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Army)
Staff Sgt. Andrew Fink, the 2015 NCO of the Year, accepts his award from Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey (left) and Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Daniel B. Allyn. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Army)

Fink said that until his name was announced Monday afternoon, he had no idea how he was doing. That’s partially by design, he said. Organizers keep competitors separate as they participate in events, so keeping track of how they’re faring compared to their opponents is nearly impossible.

“For me, the toughest part of the competition was the 12-mile ruck march, the very last physical event,” Fink said. “Because I’m a little bit shorter, I have shorter legs, it’s hard for me to keep up with those taller boys. But you have to just grit your teeth, go on and do your best.”

This year’s event marked several firsts for the competition. It was the first under Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel A. Dailey, and he refocused the already grueling events to be even more physically challenging. It was also the first year the competition was organized by the Asymmetric Warfare Group, which was intended to simulate combat conditions even more realistically. Dailey also moved the bulk of the competition to Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia, because of the post’s tougher terrain.

Most of the changes were designed to further challenge the competitors, but one of Dailey’s adjustments may have frustrated others. He kept the names of the winners under tight wrap until his Awards Luncheon on Monday. In his opening remarks at the luncheon, Dailey said the Office of the Chief of Public Affairs wrote him a three-page email explaining why that office should be notified in advance of the results.

“You know what it must feel like after you write a three-page note to the SMA, and you get a two-letter response back: No,” he said. “No, because this is special, and it deserves to be special.”

 

U.S. Army Europe's command sergeant major, Command Sgt. Maj. Shery Lyon, and commander, Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges (right), congratulate USAREUR's competitors in the Best Warrior Competition, Soldier of the Year Spc. Jared R. Tansley, and third place NCO of the Year Sgt. 1st Class Elijah Dean Howlett. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Army Europe)
U.S. Army Europe’s command sergeant major, Command Sgt. Maj. Shery Lyon, and commander, Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges (right), congratulate USAREUR’s competitors in the Best Warrior Competition, Soldier of the Year Spc. Jared R. Tansley, and third place NCO of the Year Sgt. 1st Class Elijah Dean Howlett. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Army Europe)

The “final” event at Fort A.P. Hill was the ruck march Oct. 7, but Dailey noted that even after the competitors were brought to Washington, they were always being monitored, graded. The group was invited by Dailey to participate in the Army 10-Miler on Sunday, and he said he promised them that after the tough week they had endured, he would maintain a leisurely 9- to 10-minute mile pace.

“They quickly found out that that turned into about a 6:30 pace, and you know what they said?” Dailey asked. “‘Hooah!’ They showed up for that 10-mile run and said, ‘I’ll do it, sergeant major.’ … Thank God we have Soldiers like the ones who are going to be recognized today.”

In addition to the physically challenging events, competitors are graded on their knowledge, composure under pressure and other mental tasks.

“This four-day competition tests aptitude, urban warfare, board interviews, physical fitness, written exams and warrior tasks and battle drills relevant to today’s operating environment,” said Gen. Daniel B. Allyn, vice chief of staff of the Army and the keynote speaker at Monday’s Awards Luncheon. “The Best Warrior Competition recognizes Soldiers who demonstrate commitment to our Army values, embody the Warrior Ethos and represent the force of our future.”

Fink noted that the skills tested are no surprise.

“They’re all basic Soldier tasks, so it’s something that every Soldier should be able to do,” he said. “They just grade you as hard as they can.”

Allyn noted that any day he could spend with Soldiers was a great day, and he lauded the quality of all U.S. Soldiers. “And frankly,” he said, “the greatness of our Soldiers is inspired by the greatness of our Noncommissioned Officer Corps.”

That high standard was evident in the 2015 NCO of the Year — not just in Fink’s performance in the competition, but even in his reasons for participating.

“The driving factor for me to get going and started with these competitions was really my Soldiers,” he said. “I wanted to show them that commitment to excellence. Being in the Reserve, you don’t get a lot of opportunities, but when they do come along, you have to do your best, make a plan, stick to it.

“My training from active duty — when I was on active duty for four years — really helped me out a lot with that, being with the Ranger battalion and just that never-quit attitude,” he continued. “I wanted to show my Soldiers that they could do that as well, that a Reserve soldier could go through the ranks and win this competition. Hopefully, I inspired them to do the same next year.”

The Soldier of the Year isn’t an NCO yet, but he’s ready to return to his duty station and begin the transition to leader.

“I’m ready to set the standards for my men, the new team I got, and I’m eager to teach and learn,” Tansley said.

Tansley was thankful for all the support he received from his command and his family, including his wife who helped him study with flash cards.

“Even my dog is going to be happy because all that running has paid off,” he said.

The winners receive substantial amounts of recognition and gifts, but Tansley seemed most excited by one of the side benefits.

“I did get to meet the wonderful 11 Bravo hero Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel Dailey, and he is everything we always dreamed of,” Tansley said after winning and he noted that Dailey was proud that a fellow 11B infantryman had taken the title of Best Warrior.

“This whole event has made me realize a lot of things about myself, things that I can always improve on,” Tansley said. “When you’re trying to control the four fundamentals of marksmanship and treat a casualty at the same time, you realize in a stressful situation, you always need more and more practice to come out overall.”

COMPLETE LIST OF WINNERS

Soldier of the Year

  • Third place: Spc. Emanuel L. Moore, U.S. Army Special Operations Command
  • Runnerup: Spc. Cruser Barnes, National Guard
  • Soldier of the Year: Spc. Jared R. Tansley, U.S. Army Europe

NCO of the Year

  • Third place: Sgt. 1st Class Elijah Dean Howlett, U.S. Army Europe
  • Runnerup: Staff Sgt. Kevin Simpson, Military District of Washington
  • NCO of the Year: Staff Sgt. Andrew Fink, U.S. Army Reserve Command

Individual honors

The Best Warrior competition recognizes excellence in weapons qualification, a timed event that included hitting pop-up targets with three weapons systems; top scores on the Army Physical Fitness Test administered on the second day of the competition; and top finishers of the 12-mile road march, which included 35-pound packs for the Soldier of the Year competitors and 45-pound packs for the NCO of the Year competitors and required the marchers to find items as they marched.

  • Top guns: Sgt. 1st Class Elijah Dean Howlett and Spc. Shane A. Sital
  • Iron Warriors: Sgt. Michael L. Hooks, with a 316 score on the extended scale, and Spc. Jared R. Tansley, with a score of 321.
  • Road march winners: Sgt. Robert Cunningham (2 hours, 13 minutes) and Spc. Emanuel L. Moore (2 hours, 11 minutes).