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Sgt. Kim Woo-jin, 33, of Company C, 168th Medical Battalion, competes in the land navigation component of the 8th Army Soldier of the Year competition at Camp Casey, South Korea, on Tuesday.
Sgt. Kim Woo-jin, 33, of Company C, 168th Medical Battalion, competes in the land navigation component of the 8th Army Soldier of the Year competition at Camp Casey, South Korea, on Tuesday. (Seth Robson / S&S)

CAMP CASEY, South Korea — In the nine months since Pfc. Robert Wallace, 22, arrived in South Korea, he’s proven himself among the Army’s most outstanding young soldiers.

His awards include 498th Corps Support Battalion Soldier of the Quarter, 501st Corps Support Group Soldier of the Quarter and 19th Theater Support Command Soldier of the Quarter and Soldier of the Year.

But even if Wallace wins this week’s 8th Army Soldier of the Year competition at Camp Casey, he expects to spend the next three years pumping gas.

The Kentwood, La., native calls himself a “recruiter’s special.” When he joined the Army in 2004 he was enlisted as a fueler because that was what the Army needed then, he said Tuesday, during a break from the land navigation section of the contest.

But Wallace, with the 46th Transportation Company at Camp Stanley, dreams of joining the infantry.

“Support is just not my speed,” he said. “Maybe my calling is to stay pumping gas, but I hope it is not.”

The 8th Army winner gets a $700 check, a week’s vacation on Jeju Island and a trip to Washington, D.C., Wallace said, but “I’m not in it for that. I’m doing this for the pat on the back.”

The 8th Army Soldier of the Year competition overseer, Sgt. Maj. Wanda Burdine of 8th Army G1 (personnel), said four soldiers, four noncommissioned officers and four Korean Augmentees to the U.S. Army were competing in separate categories.

The three-day competition includes a graded physical training test, road march, day and night land navigation and common task testing that includes tasks such as assembling and disassembling various weapons systems and individual movement techniques, she said.

“The soldiers really want to win. One of them threw up during the PT test today,” Burdine said.

The candidates conform to no particular character type, she said, but “it takes a hard individual to get to that level and meet that standard of competition.”

Sgt. Jason Lewis, 32, of Fort Scott, Kan., is overseeing the contest’s land navigation portion. Lewis, of Company A, 2nd Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, said the land in which candidates showcase their orienteering skills is some of the toughest terrain he’s seen.

Next to Camp Casey, it includes steep overgrown hillsides, treacherous muddy tracks and dozens of beehives. A few years ago a soldier fell to his death over a cliff during night land navigation training there. Today a tall fence guards that area, Lewis said.

For Tuesday’s test, the soldiers were issued a compass, protractor, map and global positioning system. They had to use the tools to find five markers hidden in the training area but could use the GPS just once, he said.

Candidate Sgt. Kim Woo-jin, 33, of Company C, 168th Medical Battalion said he preferred being tested on common tasks that he had more time to practice. “This map is just two-dimensional,” he said, holding up a training area map covered in contour lines to indicate steep hillsides.

“When you are walking up a three-dimensional hill the distance differs,” he said. “The map doesn’t take into account the rise and fall of the slope. It is really challenging.”

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