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Sgt. Jeremy Kamphuis, left, a military police officer with the 127th MP Company in Hanau, Germany, and Pfc. James Halog, a parachute rigger with the 5th Quartermaster Detachment in Kaiserslautern, Germany, were named noncommissioned officer and soldier of the year, respectively, for U.S. Army Europe.

Sgt. Jeremy Kamphuis, left, a military police officer with the 127th MP Company in Hanau, Germany, and Pfc. James Halog, a parachute rigger with the 5th Quartermaster Detachment in Kaiserslautern, Germany, were named noncommissioned officer and soldier of the year, respectively, for U.S. Army Europe. (Nancy Montgomery / S&S)

They ruck-marched, tossed hand grenades and evacuated Germans pretending to be injured from a pitch-black basement. They did push-ups, shot their M-16s and navigated their way around Grafenwöhr for 12 hours using only compasses, protractors and maps.

And if that weren’t enough, they each had to write an essay — on the tenets of the warrior ethos.

According to a board of U.S. Army noncommissioned officers watching them perform, Pfc. James Halog and Sgt. Jeremy Kamphuis did it best.

The two were named Soldier of the Year and NCO of the Year, respectively, for U.S. Army Europe at a banquet Tuesday night in Heidelberg, Germany.

The awards came after three grueling days of tests at Grafenwöhr earlier this month, and, they both said, many, many months, at least, of striving always to do their best.

Halog, 20, a parachute rigger with the 5th Quartermaster Detachment in Kaiserslautern, Germany, who has been in the Army for 17 months, was soldier of the month when he was still in parachute-rigging school and later was his company’s soldier of the year.\

Kamphuis, 23, a military police officer with the 127th MP Company in Hanau, Germany, joined the Army Reserve in 2000 and went active-duty in 2003. He had been his battalion’s NCO of the year.

Kamphuis, who hails from Grand Rapids, Mich., and says he is the sole person from his high school class to have joined the military, had just returned from a year in Baghdad. There, he had helped train Iraqi police “to make [the force] a more effective and efficient organization that the Iraqi people can trust,” as he put it. That went well, he said, but he was still a bit out of shape just before the competition was to begin.

“I couldn’t even ruck-run for 4 miles at that point,” he said, still bearing the hairstyle — his head shaved bald — he’d discovered was so low maintenance in Iraq.

But he persevered.

“My Saturday mornings were spent doing PT [physical training],” he said, in addition to all the other mornings. A good soldier, he said, lives by the Army values and leads from the front. “You’re always looking to better yourself.”

Halog, from the San Francisco Bay area, said he’s always taken to heart the warrior ethos, which he recites when asked.

Neither one is certain whether the Army will be a career or just a temporary adventure. Halog says he thinks the military has given him discipline and maturity, and he likes the life.

“I’m thinking about 20 years,” he said.

Kamphuis, who went active duty in part because he knew he’d be deployed to Iraq anyway, has earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. He said he will be re-enlisting. After that, though, he said, “The future is hard to predict,” and he’s been thinking about a career in federal law enforcement.

The two competed against five other soldiers or NCOs of the year from U.S. Army Europe commands. There would have been eight contestants, but one had been injured.

Kamphuis and Halog are now preparing for the Army-wide competition that starts Sept. 26. In that, the two will compete with 32 others.

The USAREUR awards came with numerous prizes, including savings bonds and round-trip airline tickets to the States.

Rising to the top

Here are the runners-up for U.S. Army Europe Soldier and Noncommissioned Officer of the Year:

author picture
Nancy is an Italy-based reporter for Stars and Stripes who writes about military health, legal and social issues. An upstate New York native who served three years in the U.S. Army before graduating from the University of Arizona, she previously worked at The Anchorage Daily News and The Seattle Times. Over her nearly 40-year journalism career she’s won several regional and national awards for her stories and was part of a newsroom-wide team at the Anchorage Daily News that was awarded the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

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