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Soldiers being blindfolded before undergoing one of the many field tests that were part of last week's competition for 8th U.S. Army soldier, noncommissioned officer and KATUSA of the year awards. KATUSAs are Korean Army soldiers assigned to the U.S. Army. The weeklong event ran from July 12 to July 16 at and near Camp Humphreys, South Korea, culminating with an awards dinner in Seoul.

Soldiers being blindfolded before undergoing one of the many field tests that were part of last week's competition for 8th U.S. Army soldier, noncommissioned officer and KATUSA of the year awards. KATUSAs are Korean Army soldiers assigned to the U.S. Army. The weeklong event ran from July 12 to July 16 at and near Camp Humphreys, South Korea, culminating with an awards dinner in Seoul. (Courtesy of U.S. Army)

Soldiers being blindfolded before undergoing one of the many field tests that were part of last week's competition for 8th U.S. Army soldier, noncommissioned officer and KATUSA of the year awards. KATUSAs are Korean Army soldiers assigned to the U.S. Army. The weeklong event ran from July 12 to July 16 at and near Camp Humphreys, South Korea, culminating with an awards dinner in Seoul.

Soldiers being blindfolded before undergoing one of the many field tests that were part of last week's competition for 8th U.S. Army soldier, noncommissioned officer and KATUSA of the year awards. KATUSAs are Korean Army soldiers assigned to the U.S. Army. The weeklong event ran from July 12 to July 16 at and near Camp Humphreys, South Korea, culminating with an awards dinner in Seoul. (Courtesy of U.S. Army)

Spc. Megan Pitts, Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 14th Transportation Battalion, aids a squad of German soldiers across a river during the U.S. Army Europe solider of the year competition in Grafenwohr, Germany.

Spc. Megan Pitts, Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 14th Transportation Battalion, aids a squad of German soldiers across a river during the U.S. Army Europe solider of the year competition in Grafenwohr, Germany. (Courtesy of U.S. Army)

CAMP HUMPHREYS, South Korea — The 8th U.S. Army in South Korea has named its top soldier, sergeant, and Korean soldier assigned to the U.S. Army after the three competed against fellow soldiers in a weeklong test of their field soldiering and other skills.

Spc. Wilfredo A. Mendez of the 3rd Military Intelligence Battalion was selected soldier of the year and Sgt. Samuel E. Cowell of the 532nd Military Intelligence Battalion was named noncommissioned officer of the year.

Cpl. Kim Yoon-keun was named 8th Army’s KATUSA of the Year. KATUSAs are South Korean soldiers assigned to duty with the U.S. Army.

The two U.S. soldiers will represent the 8th Army in the Department of the Army competition Sept. 12-17 at Fort Lee, Va., and Washington, D.C.

“What the soldiers went through at Camp Humphreys is patterned after the rigors of what they’ll get to at the DA competition,” said Maj. Kate Johnson, an 8th Army spokeswoman in Seoul.

The three were among eight soldiers who underwent strenuous competition including tests of their soldier skills in field conditions, a written exam, and an interview before an exacting board of sergeants major.

The competition, which ran July 11-15, was held at Camp Humphreys in South Korea and at training ranges within an hour of the base. Competition included physical fitness written tests.

Troops also underwent “land navigation” tests of their map and compass skills in daytime and night conditions in mountainous terrain. The troops didn’t return to base until almost midnight, said Steve Davis, a Camp Humphreys spokesman.

Despite the late night, the soldiers were back at it the next morning with a trip to a rifle range about an hour from Camp Humphreys.

“They were all extremely tired from the ‘land nav’ when they went to the range,” Davis said.

That afternoon, the soldiers were at a training area for a series of tests in seven soldier skill areas. On Wednesday, the troops underwent yet another set of tests, this time of their Humvee maintenance abilities, military radio procedures, close-order drill movements and assembling and performing a function check on the M-16A2 rifle, blindfolded, within six minutes.

Thursday, the soldiers put on Class A uniforms and went before a board of sergeants major. Much care went into getting their awards and decorations properly positioned on their Class As and otherwise making sure their appearance measured up, Davis said.

But the effort was complicated by the downpour of monsoon rains, Davis said.

“They’re all dressed up in their Class A uniforms and just looking immaculate,” said Davis, “and then they run into a downpour. Getting from one building to another was like an event in itself.”

The competition culminated Friday with an awards dinner at the Dragon Hill Lodge on Yongsan Garrison in Seoul. Besides the distinction of being named the best in their respective categories, the three received a variety of prizes. Mendez and Cowell each received cash prizes, saving bonds, a dress blue uniform, and a family vacation trip.

Kim received cash, clothes and other prizes.


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