22 8th Army soldiers vie for top honors
Stars and Stripes June 9, 2007
CAMP CASEY, South Korea — Many of the 22 soldiers competing for the 8th Army Soldier of the Year title don’t have job specialties that grab headlines, or daily tasks that grasp Hollywood’s imagination.
Some are truck drivers. Others work in intelligence, administrative or communications fields.
“The concept here is that we’re all soldiers … it’s not meant to be easy,” said Sgt. Michael Velasquez, of the 18th Medical Command, after completing 13 “warrior tasks” on Wednesday — Day 3 of the four-day competition.
Velasquez and two other medics had to overcome some disadvantages: they are allowed to carry only light, individual weapons under the Geneva Conventions, meaning they don’t have experience with tasks like maintaining a .50 caliber M-2 machine gun.
Velasquez’s command trained him well prior to the competition on as many tasks as they could, he said.
However, not all units prepared their soldiers as much.
One of eight soldiers competing for South Korean augmentee soldier of the year said the only time he had previously attempted these tasks was at a lower-level competition.
Sergeants major who attended some of the lower-level competitions earlier this year noted that some soldiers weren’t familiar with long-tested skills like land navigation.
Senior noncommissioned officers running the warrior task lanes on Wednesday say it’s up to their counterparts to change that.
These are “definitely perishable skills and they need to be practiced,” said Sgt. 1st Class Michael Clinton of 2nd ID’s 1st Battalion, 72nd Armor Regiment.
Leaders can help keep those skills fresh during weekly “sergeant’s time” training, Clinton said.
While some soldiers appeared to be “going through the motions” Wednesday, lane controllers said, others appeared highly motivated and badly wanted to win.
“And if they don’t know something, they’re willing to ask,” said Sgt. 1st Class David Danner of the 1st Heavy Combat Brigade’s military police platoon. “For everything they’ve been through mentally and physically, they’re doing pretty well.”
Soldiers began Monday with a briefing and written exam, then competed in day and night land navigation Tuesday.
They began early Wednesday morning qualifying on the M-4 and M-16 rifles, moved on to the 13 warrior tasks, and then grappled in an Army combatives competition at Carey Gym.
They were scheduled to compete in a mystery event — which officials told Stars and Stripes was a 6-mile rucksack march with rifle maintenance — before facing evaluation boards on Thursday.
The winners for soldier, NCO and South Korean soldier of the year will be announced at the Army ball at Yongsan Garrison’s Dragon Hill Lodge on June 15.
The U.S. winners will then represent 8th Army in a service-wide competition.