Army's Best Warrior Competition winner hopes to inspire other wounded soldiers
By DREW BROOKS | The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. | Published: December 15, 2013
A little more than a year ago, Army doctors discussed the possibility that Sgt. 1st Class Jason Manella's career might be over.
Manella was a victim of multiple bomb blasts in Afghanistan that had left him hospitalized for two months while treating headaches, dizziness and memory loss.
But Manella, an Army Reserve soldier based in Mountain View, Calif., did not give up.
In November, his perseverance paid off. Manella, competing against 11 other veteran enlisted soldiers from across the nation as part of the Army's Best Warrior competition, was named noncommissioned officer of the year at Fort Lee, Va.
Earlier this month, Manella was on Fort Bragg, home to his higher command, the U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command.
He was there to pick the first name in a lottery for the command's annual Operation Toy Drop, but he said he also had another purpose.
Manella said he wanted to use his title to offer a glimmer of hope for other soldiers who have battled or are battling with traumatic brain injury.
Manella was wounded between March and May 2012 while attached to the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division in southern Afghanistan.
He suffered multiple concussions from being near improvised explosive device explosions, he said.
His wounds were not visible, he said. But they were real enough.
Manella said he would stop midsentence, having forgotten what he was saying. He also slurred his words.
He used Army competitions - he had to win three on his way to the Armywide competition for Best Warrior - as part of his recovery, he said. One of those was the Civil Affairs command's Best Warrior Competition at Fort Bragg.
He began studying for the competitions in July 2012, he said. And he treated each competition as if it were the Armywide test.
The final competition involved many tests, both written and physical.
In addition to a physical fitness test, the competitors were tested with weapons and on a ruck march, and they were given an oral test before a board of Army leaders.
Other tasks ranged from changing the tire of a Humvee to clearing casualties following a mock IED attack.
Manella, a Fremont, Calif., native, has been in the Army Reserve for 10 years, deploying two times to Iraq and once to Afghanistan.
He is the first Reserve soldier to win the noncommissioned officer of the year title.
Staff writer Drew Brooks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.