S. Korea-based GI is Soldier of the Year
News that South Korea-based Spc. Wilfredo A. Mendez was chosen 2004 Soldier of the Year for the entire U.S. Army touched off feelings of pride and excitement within his unit at Camp Humphreys, unit members said Wednesday.
“Oh yeah, everybody’s all excited. We got the whole battalion, (the sergeant major) announced it in front of the motor pool yesterday,” said Pfc. Justin Knuteson of Company A, 3rd Military Intelligence Battalion (Aerial Exploitation), Mendez’s unit.
The Army selected Mendez after he vied in weeklong competition with soldiers from other major Army commands. Mendez represented one of those commands, the 8th U.S. Army, which is headquartered in Seoul.
He was en route back to Camp Humphreys on Wednesday, his unit said, and couldn’t be reached for comment.
The Army also announced Staff Sgt. Andrew J. Bullock was the Army’s 2004 Noncommissioned Officer of the Year. Bullock is a Ranger instructor with the 5th Ranger Training Battalion at Fort Benning, Ga., and represented Training and Doctrine Command in the NCO of the Year competition, which ran concurrently with the Soldier of the Year competition.
The competitions in both categories started Sept. 12 and put the soldiers through the Army Physical Fitness Test, a six-mile road march, day and night navigation courses and weapons qualification, other tests of battle skills and a written exam and essay.
Twenty candidates took part in the finals from 10 Army major commands.
Then, on Sept. 16 came a final step in the competition: the appearance before a board of senior soldiers who appraised not only the competing soldiers’ answers to questions but their military bearing, speaking ability, military knowledge and military record.
Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth O. Preston presided over the board, which met in Crystal City, Va.
“The whole week has been a perfect challenge,” Mendez said later at an award ceremony at Fort Myer, Va., according to an Army news release.
“All the competitors are here because they know what it takes to be a winner,” Preston said as he announced the winners. “Take what you’ve learned in the past week … and apply it to your daily life.”
Even though Mendez went to the competition representing the U.S. Army in South Korea, Company A wants everyone to know that Mendez is their guy.
“He came out of 8th Army but we take it all the way down — it’s Alpha Company,” said the company’s 1st Sgt. Roger Bonesteel. “Very proud of him. Of course he represented the battalion well, but we in Alpha Company, we’re staking our claim to him.”
Bonesteel said Mendez is a “great asset” to the Army. “He’s one heck of a soldier. He’s sharp, smart, and he’s got it all. He’s got the total package. A very intelligent soldier who is good at oral communications. He’s a leader. A peer leader.”
Mendez also excels in physical fitness and weapons qualification, Bonesteel said.
Mendez is assigned to Company A’s Aerial Reconnaissance Support Team. In wartime, the team would set up high-tech gear on the battlefield and receive information from low-flying aircraft scouting the battle area. Mendez is trained to analyze and interpret that aerial intelligence and then brief commanders.
Mendez, from Rio Grande, Puerto Rico, is working toward a bachelor’s degree in business administration and is a graduate of the Airborne School and the Combat Life Saver Course. He’s been accepted for duty with the Army Special Forces, Bonesteel said.