Tag Archives: U.S. Army Center for Initial Military Training

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.

Fort Sill’s move to certify drill sergeants at brigade level paves way for Armywide POI

By MEGHAN PORTILLO
NCO Journal

Drill sergeants are entrusted with transforming civilian volunteers into new Soldiers. They must be symbols of excellence for new recruits, as they are everything their Soldiers know of the Army. The Army’s future rests on them and their ability to mold motivated, disciplined, fit and capable Soldiers.

“The ultimate goal is to produce and maintain the highest quality trainer so they can produce the highest quality Soldier,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Gragg, command sergeant major for the Center for Initial Military Training at Fort Eustis, Virginia. “The better drill sergeant we can produce, the better Soldier we can produce for the force.”

So how does the Army ensure only the best of the best continue to train America’s Soldiers? Training and Doctrine Command Regulation 350-16 stipulates that drill sergeants must certify each year to prove they are still subject matter experts in all the warrior tasks and battle drills. But the process by which the drill sergeants certify varies across the Army’s training centers, and even from one battalion to another.

To remedy the problem, Fort Sill, Oklahoma, now conducts the certification at brigade level. The change ensures a more consistent training experience for each Soldier, and has paved the way for standardization of drill sergeant certification Armywide.

“Fort Sill has an outstanding [certification] program that it has in place right now, almost to the point where it is a model that we can look at as a best practice to incorporate into other facilities, into the Program of Instruction,” Gragg said.

Gragg said he hopes to standardize the requirements for drill sergeant certification across all four Basic Combat Training locations. The POI that would accomplish that should be in place by the end of 2016, he said.

“We will definitely use some tenets from the program in place at Fort Sill,” Gragg said. “What Fort Sill has done – is doing, and continues to do – is awesome, and I can honestly say they are producing day in and day out some of our best Soldiers coming out of basic training.”

Fort Sill drill sergeant certification

When Fort Sill’s drill sergeant certification was being implemented at the battalion level, drill sergeants were grading other drill sergeants, which created staffing issues.

“Anytime certification needed to be done, the units had to cut this position out – that is a drill sergeant that could be utilized to train Soldiers that they can’t use to train Soldiers because they have to train or maintain consistency in the drill-sergeant population,” Gragg said. “That’s why Fort Sill doing it at the brigade level eases some of the manning requirements; it is one level teaching it as opposed to duplication of efforts at a battalion level.”

Staff Sgt. Franco Peralta, Fort Sill’s Drill Sergeant of the Year for 2015, noticed that, in addition to staffing challenges, the grading and the tasks being graded differed greatly from one battalion to another, and that the certification was not much of a challenge for the drill sergeants to obtain. He worked with his command to standardize the certification process and raise the bar for drill sergeants across the 434th Field Artillery Brigade. The new process was implemented in February 2016.

“Now, at brigade level, it is more rigorous and more challenging,” Peralta said. “And, drill sergeants are graded by cadre from Headquarters and Headquarters Support who are subject-matter experts. For example, chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear tasks are graded by CBRN experts in that field. If it is a medical task, it is graded by medics.”

The certification is offered once a month, after a four-day refresher course in which drill sergeants train on the 30 tasks outlined in the Soldier’s Manual of Common Tasks (SMCT 21-1.) On certification day, the drill sergeants are tested on 15 of the 30 tasks, but do not know beforehand which those will be.

“A drill sergeant is an expert in the warrior tasks and battle drills,” said Staff Sgt. Dustin Randall, Fort Sill’s Drill Sergeant of the Year. “That’s what we are. We should be experts in everything in SMCT 21-1. We train Soldiers right out of that book, and if we don’t know how to do it ourselves, how are we going to teach them? The whole idea of this certification is to get everybody on post on the same page, so that every Soldier is getting trained to standard, across the board.”

If drill sergeants fail the certification test – which has happened quite a bit across the brigade, Randall said – they receive counseling and are required to recertify the next month. If they fail twice, they will receive counseling and be removed from the drill sergeant program for a month. They will remain with their unit, but will not be allowed to train Soldiers for 30 days.

“The idea behind that is to get them 30 days of solid training so they can meet the standard,” Randall said. “If they fail a third time, they will be recommended for removal from the drill sergeant program all together.”

Both Randall and Peralta said they have noticed a marked difference in the confidence of the brigade’s drill sergeants and in the quality of the training they provide.

“I think it’s good because when the drill sergeants know they can do everything by the book, they get in front of the Soldiers and teach them with confidence,” Peralta said. “That extra pressure – it’s hard when someone is looking at you and testing you. ‘OK, let me see how you clear an M4, how you load an M4.’ It makes them nervous. But after they prepare, study, read through the book, they have more confidence to teach their Soldiers and know they are teaching a task the right way, just how TRADOC wants it to be taught.”

“I think everybody is kind of walking with their chest puffed out, walking a little taller than they used to,” Randall said. “They feel more proud to be drill sergeants, and if they haven’t certified yet, they look at it as a competitive game. It’s good stuff.”

Moving toward an Armywide standard

Though Gragg praised the measures Fort Sill has taken to standardize certification across the brigade, he pointed out that the process still varies from one brigade to another. The fact that the 434th Field Artillery Brigade will soon be breaking down basic training under two Advanced Individual Training brigades, he said, further highlights the need for an even higher-level standard to maintain consistency.

“Right now, the advantage of brigade-level certification is that it provides a consistent standard from that brigade on down. The only concern with that is that if the standard they are teaching at brigade A is different than what they are teaching at brigade B, then you have an inconsistent product that is being produced,” Gragg said. “My goal is to have a Program of Instruction in place across TRADOC so that, whether it is being utilized at the brigade level or the battalion level, the product is the same.

“Whether the Army Training Centers choose to utilize the POI at the brigade level or the battalion level is going to be up to them. The Center for Initial Military Training isn’t going to tell units how to conduct their certification. We just want to ensure that the certification is conducted to a standard that we feel all drill sergeants need to meet.”

Gragg said he hopes to have the POI completed by the fourth quarter of this year. Meanwhile, he is gathering feedback from the force as to what should be included. What are the most important perishable skills that drill sergeants need to brush up on every year? He is working to identify those areas and get drill sergeants the tools they need to keep those skills sharp and deliver the best training possible to U.S. Soldiers.

“We in IMT are in the business of process improvement,” Gragg said. “We have been making Soldiers for 241 years, but we still aren’t perfect at it. We are always looking at ways to improve our ability to produce the best Soldiers we possibly can.”

U.S. Army Reserve drill sergeants with the 108th Training Command stand at attention during a change of command ceremony at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, June 13, 2015. (Photo by Sgt. Ken Scar / U.S. Army)
U.S. Army Reserve drill sergeants with the 108th Training Command stand at attention during a change of command ceremony at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, June 13, 2015. (Photo by Sgt. Ken Scar / U.S. Army)

Drill Sergeants, AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year announced

Previously in The NCO Journal:

Social media:

 

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:

Social media:

 

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.”