Tag Archives: South Carolina

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.

Camaraderie grows among drill sergeant, AIT platoon sergeant competitors

Previously in The NCO Journal:

By JONATHAN (JAY) KOESTER
NCO Journal

With the heat and humidity soaring at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, on Thursday, the 15 NCOs competing to be named the top drill sergeant and AIT platoon sergeant had to survive on the small pleasures, like running through some cool mud on the obstacle course, or getting five minutes of shade while talking to a journalist.

Besides those moments, it was just one test after another, whether it was running and marching, training new recruits on the Army Physical Fitness Test or how to clear a room, combatives, a medical situational training exercise and more.

Sgt. 1st Class Jason Scott puts junior Soldiers through the Army Physical Fitness Test on Thursday at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, while competing for the title of Army Reserve Drill Sergeant of the Year. (Photos by Spc. James Seals / NCO Journal)
Sgt. 1st Class Jason Scott does pushups during an obstacle relay Thursday at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, while competing for the title of Army Reserve Drill Sergeant of the Year. (Photos by Spc. James Seals / NCO Journal)

Staff Sgt. Emanuel Olivencia of Company D, 229th Military Intelligence Battalion, Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center in Monterey, California, was one of the nine competing for 2016 Advanced Individual Training Platoon Sergeant of the Year. He was impressed by his fellow competitors.

“It’s been a challenge, in a very positive way,” Olivencia said. “I’m learning a lot about myself, trying to measure up to the best NCOs out there. I can tell from their performance that we are striving and improving our force.”

Staff Sgt. Jacob Meyers of Company D, 344th Military Intelligence Battalion in Pensacola, Florida, said he prepared for the heat and humidity by doing his training under the noontime sun in Florida. Meyers was also competing for AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year.

Staff Sgt. Jacob Meyers works his way over an obstacle during the AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year competition Sept. 8 at Fort Jackson.
Staff Sgt. Jacob Meyers works his way over an obstacle during the AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year competition Thursday at Fort Jackson.

“It’s going pretty well,” he said. “They don’t tell us our scores, so as far as we know, we’re all in the lead. I went to school with one of the competitors, Staff Sgt. Jonathan Sisk. He impressed me in school, and he’s doing the same thing here. My roommate, Staff Sgt. Brandon Laspe, is an incredible competitor. Everybody out here is just giving it everything they’ve got.”

The camaraderie was clearly growing as competitors got to know each other. Because it’s a competition, that camaraderie included some trash talk as the NCOs took on the obstacle course Thursday.

After his turn on the course, Staff Sgt. Dominique Curry of Company C, 1-81 Armor Battalion, Fort Benning, Georgia, spent some time letting Staff Sgt. Christopher Johnson of Company E, 369th Signal Battalion, 15th Regimental Signal Brigade, Fort Gordon, Georgia, know that he might as well not waste his time trying to beat him. Both were competing to be AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year.

“I almost set a new course record,” Curry told Johnson. “You might as well skip it. I would have set the record, but Usain Bolt was just a little bit ahead of me.”

Staff Sgt. Tyler Cushing, competing to be 2016 Drill Sergeant of the Year, goes through a graded on-camera media interview Sept. 8 at Fort Jackson.
Staff Sgt. Tyler Cushing, competing for 2016 Drill Sergeant of the Year, goes through a graded, on-camera media interview Thursday at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.

Johnson wasn’t having it, though he admitted there were some strong competitors.

“I’ve been very impressed, both on the drill sergeant side and the platoon sergeant side,” Johnson said. “I hope I win, first and foremost. But if I don’t, it goes to show that [even as] a seasoned staff sergeant, I still have the grit and get-up about me to go and compete for these things. It shows I want to get better, do better and push my peers to get better as well.”

Part of what makes the Drill Sergeant and AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year competitions so special is that the winners don’t just go back to their units. Instead, they spend a year working at the strategic level with Training and Doctrine Command.

Staff Sgt. Brandon Laspe, competing to be AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year, works his way through an obstacle course Sept. 8 at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.
Staff Sgt. Brandon Laspe, competing to be named AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year, works his way through an obstacle course Thursday at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.

Previously, they spent that year at the Center for Initial Military Training at Fort Eustis, Virginia. But this year the winners will do the same job out of Fort Jackson, said Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Gragg, command sergeant major of the CIMT. That way, necessary changes can more quickly reach the force.

“When they go out on the staff assistance visits with us, they can bring the lessons back to the schoolhouse and be like an adjunct professor to teach into the course the habits and trends that are in the field,” Gragg said. “They can bring that right back into the schoolhouse to stop bad habits from happening.”

Sgt. 1st Class Samuel Enriquez is one of the organizers of this year’s competition after winning the title of 2015 AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year. Now finishing up his year of working at the TRADOC strategic level, he said the experience made him understand the Army better.

Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Cummings trains junior Soldiers on the Army Physical Fitness Test on Sept. 8 at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. Cummings was competing to be named 2016 AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year.
Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Cummings trains junior Soldiers on the Army Physical Fitness Test on Thursday at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. Cummings was competing for 2016 AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year.

“It was a eye-opening experience,” Enriquez said. “I was glad to experience the Army at a strategic level. Instead of seeing what other people have dictated down in policy, I got to actually see the decision-making process that affects the Army. I got to understand why the Army makes these crazy decisions that they make. Turns out they are not so crazy.”

And last year’s winners will be there to help the new champions find their way, said Staff Sgt. Jacob Miller, the 2015 Drill Sergeant of the Year.

“Once the winners are announced, they will have a crash course with me and the others about what to expect, and they’ll have my number if they have any questions,” Miller said. “Because there is going to be a lot thrown at them all at once. It’s a very rewarding job, being able to represent the drill sergeants in the Army.”

But a high-speed job for the winners is only part of what makes this particular Army competition special, Gragg said.

Sgt. 1st Class Jason Scott enters the Multiple Simulation Training Facility to find a wounded soldier during the Army Reserve Drill Sergeant of the Year competition Sept. 8 at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. Scott must determine the status of the soldier's injuries and well being, and administer first-aid while gunfire blasts in the background.
Sgt. 1st Class Jason Scott enters the Multiple Simulation Training Facility to find a wounded Soldier during the Army Reserve Drill Sergeant of the Year competition Thursday at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. Scott must determine the status of the Soldier’s injuries and well being, and administer first aid while gunfire blasts in the background.

“The uniqueness of this competition is that these individuals, their sole mission, day in and day out, is to transform civilians into Soldiers,” he said. “Unlike other Army jobs, the mission that these Soldiers do every day affects the defense of the constitution and the nation for the next 20 to 30 years. Because the Soldier they are training today could possibly have a 20- or 30-year career. They are possibly training the future Sergeant Major of the Army or Chief of Staff for the Army.”

All 15 competitors made it through a lot to be here, but on Friday the best of the best will be chosen. Check the NCO Journal on Friday night to learn who came out on top.

Staff Sgt. Brandon Laspe, competing to be AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year, works his way through an obstacle course Sept. 8 at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.
Staff Sgt. Brandon Laspe, competing for AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year, works his way through an obstacle course Thursday 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

This Month in NCO History: Oct. 3, 2009 — A battlefield pledge honored on the gridiron

It was easy to lose sight of former Sgt. Daniel Rodriguez earlier this month on the sideline of Memorial Stadium on the campus of Clemson University in Clemson, South Carolina.

The 5-foot-8, 180-pound Rodriguez was cloaked in an orange hooded smock and was difficult to single out of the rain-soaked mass of mammoth Clemson Tiger football players who were taking on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on Oct. 3 in a highly anticipated college football contest between two Top 25 teams. Why Rodriguez was present during Clemson’s 24-22 win was apparent — he was a special teams star and wide receiver for Clemson from 2012 to 2014. He just missed making the St. Louis Rams’ 53-man roster in September.

But it was more than football prowess and a prime-time matchup that drew Rodriguez to his former school. The date was significant for another reason, the anniversary of a day when Rodriguez’s diminutive — by football standards — frame stood out in gallant fashion.

On Oct. 3, 2009, Rodriguez was involved in the Battle of Kamdesh, one of the deadliest skirmishes for U.S. forces during their involvement in Afghanistan. The fight occurred at Combat Outpost Keating near the town of Kamdesh in the Afghan province of Nuristan. In the predawn hours, a hail of gunfire descended on the outpost, which sat in a narrow valley surrounded by the Hindu Kush mountains near the Pakistani border. A force of about 400 Taliban fighters assaulted the compound from five vantage points in the mountains.

COP Keating was defended by 50 American Soldiers, an Afghan National Army unit and its two Latvian Army trainers. The American Soldiers, assigned to B Troop, 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, had been at the outpost since May. Having faced enemy fire almost daily in the difficult-to-defend complex, the Army had planned its closure. The all-out attack Oct. 3 hastened those plans.

As insurgents targeted the outpost’s mortar pit with a barrage of bullets, others nearly overwhelmed every other spot within the football-field sized compound from their positions in the mountains. A simultaneous attack was carried out on nearby Observation Post Fritsche, which cut off support to COP Keating for most of the day. Taliban forces breached COP Keating and inflicted casualties within an hour of the attack. They wouldn’t be completely driven back until late in the afternoon.

The American Soldiers and their allies fought fiercely in defense of COP Keating, killing an estimated 150 Taliban fighters. Later in the day, OP Fritsche was secured and able to provide indirect support. Overhead, two U.S. Air Force F-15E fighter bombers helped coordinate airstrikes. Eventually, COP Keating was secured.

Eight of the 50 U.S. Soldiers defending the outpost were killed and 27 were wounded in the battle, which lasted 12 hours.

One of the wounded was Rodriguez. A bullet penetrated his shoulder and shrapnel shredded his leg and neck. Like other Soldiers in the unit, Rodriguez stayed in the fight throughout the day despite his wounds. Afterward, a bevy of awards for valor were awarded to survivors of the battle. Two of them — Staff Sgt. Clinton L. Romesha and then-Spc. Ty Michael Carter — were awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military honor. Rodriguez was awarded a Purple Heart and Bronze Star Medal with valor device for his actions. But the recognition didn’t offer consolation for the loss of fellow Soldier and close friend, Pfc. Kevin C. Thomson. Rodriguez befriended Thomson upon arriving at COP Keating. Weeks before the Taliban attack, the pair made a pledge to each other that they would pursue their dreams after leaving the Army. The assault ended those dreams for Thomson and left Rodriguez distraught.

The following year, Rodriguez was discharged from the Army, ending a four-year career that included tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He enrolled at Germanna Community College in Fredericksburg, Virginia, three months after returning home. But the rigor of classes couldn’t ease the scars of combat. Rodriguez turned to drinking to cope with his diagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder. The following fall, he decided to make good on a promise he made to his friend in the rugged Afghanistan mountains.

“I felt like I’d been given this second chance at life,” Rodriguez told ESPN in 2012. “I don’t want to waste it. I don’t want to waste the oxygen that somebody died for for me to have.”

His dream was no small feat — Rodriguez wanted to play football at a Football Bowl Subdivision school. He began the journey to the longshot goal by working out three times a day and sticking to a strict diet. A friend helped Rodriguez create a video showcasing his speed, quickness and soft hands to distribute to coaches throughout the country. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney stood out to Rodriguez among the 50 coaches who contacted him. In the summer of 2012, he scrambled to get his transcripts and eligibility requirements in order to enroll at Clemson that fall and join the football team as a walk-on.

Rodriguez’s determination came to fruition. He played in 37 consecutive games for the Tigers through three seasons. He scored his only touchdown on a 2-yard end-around play against The Citadel in 2013. His college career was dotted with various awards for players who display inspiration and merit.

After graduating in December 2014, Rodriguez went unselected in the National Football League Draft the following spring but received an invitation to play with the St. Louis Rams. He suited up for all four of the Rams’ preseason games but was eventually cut from the final 53-man roster. Despite falling short on NFL aspirations, Rodriguez served as an inspirational story in the run-up to the 2015 NFL regular season. He took to Twitter after his release to encourage others to chase their dreams and cherish the time it takes to reach them.

“I’ll never see this as a failure or opportunity wasted. I encourage all to pursue what you love and make the most of your life on this earth,” Rodriguez wrote.

He returned to his alma mater this month to promote coming book-signing events for his co-authored tome, Rise: A Soldier, A Dream and A Promise Kept. He also discussed the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America Heroes Gala in New York City, a November event at which he will be honored.

Rodriguez currently lives in Hermosa Beach, California. The movie rights to his story have been sold to TriStar Productions.

Compiled by Pablo Villa

Go to 1:30 of the video above to hear Daniel Rodriguez tell his story to ESPN.

Former drill sergeants invited to attend 50th anniversary events

By JONATHAN (JAY) KOESTER
NCO Journal

NCOs at Fort Jackson, S.C., are organizing what could be a new Soldier’s worst nightmare: a field full of Soldiers wearing drill sergeant hats.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Army’s drill sergeant training program. Events to commemorate that anniversary are planned to coincide with the 2014 Drill Sergeant and Advanced Individual Training Platoon Sergeant of the Year competition Sept. 8-13 at Fort Jackson. All former drill sergeants — retired and currently serving — are invited to attend the competition and commemoration.

The competition will take place Sept. 8-10, with the competition winners announced during an awards ceremony Sept. 11. On Sept. 12, there will be an open house at the new U.S. Army Drill Sergeant School campus, as well as a social, said Sgt. Maj. Thomas Campbell, the G3/5/7 (operations/plans/training) sergeant major for the U.S. Army Center for Initial Military Training at Fort Eustis, Va. All former drill sergeants are being asked to wear their drill sergeant hats to the social.

The competitors of the 2011 Drill Sergeant of the Year Competition stand in front of the U.S. Army Drill Sergeant School at Fort Jackson, S.C. The statue is of Allen Glen Carpenter, who won the first competition in 1969 as a sergeant first class. (NCO Journal file photo)
The competitors of the 2011 Drill Sergeant of the Year Competition stand in front of the U.S. Army Drill Sergeant School at Fort Jackson, S.C. The statue is of Allen Glen Carpenter, who won the first competition in 1969 as a sergeant first class. (NCO Journal file photo)

“The Drill Sergeant Hat Social is going to be in the center of the Drill Sergeant School campus, in the center of the physical training field,” Campbell said. “Our goal is to get as many drill sergeant hats as we can on the Drill Sergeant School field. We will then have a photo opportunity to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the formal Drill Sergeant School program.”

Countless Soldiers have walked by the drill sergeant statue at Fort Jackson, and the Sept. 12 social offers the chance to watch that statue come to life. Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Allen Glen Carpenter will be the guest speaker at the social. Not only was Carpenter the Army’s first Drill Sergeant of the Year, he is also the person who the drill sergeant statue is modeled after.

“The unique thing is Sgt. Maj. Carpenter has never seen that statue,” Campbell said. “This will be the first time he actually gets to see it in person. It’s always stood in front of the Fort Jackson drill sergeant school, both at the old location and at the new school. So every drill sergeant who has passed through the doors since the 1980s has walked by Sgt. Maj. Carpenter. And many, many photos have been taken by drill sergeants with him.”

For more information on the competition, open house or social, e-mail Campbell at thomas.e.campbell7.mil@mail.mil or the current Drill Sergeant of the Year, Sgt. 1st Class David Stover, at david.e.stover.mil@mail.mil.