NANGARHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan – War today is very different from the battles our forefathers fought; today’s current mission in Eastern Afghanistan is to advise and assist the Afghan National Security Forces. Because of that, Soldiers are finding different ways to distinguish themselves during deployments.
Ten Soldiers and noncomissioned officers had the opportunity to set themselves above their peers during the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, Task Force Patriot, NCO and Soldier of the Quarter competition, at Forward Operating Base Fenty Jan. 23.
Spc. Clorinda Placencia, military police officer with 4th BCT’s Special Troops Battalion, proved herself at the battalion level first, before earning a chance at the brigade competition.
“At the battalion board there was a total of eight Soldiers I was up against and we even had one before that, at the company level, where there were four others,” said the San Bernardino, Calif., native.
She admits having apprehensions about competing through each level of competition, even after making it to the brigade level.
“After winning the battalion board I started studying for the brigade competition and it became a lot more challenging because I looked at a lot of the material and said to myself ‘wow, I don’t know any of this’ but getting into it and getting my hands on everything, it’s exciting to me,” said Placencia.
Spc. Dustin Ledford, an infantryman in 2nd Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, went through several mock boards to prepare for the Soldier of the Quarter competition, and said this contest excited him from the beginning.
“I’ve wanted to do something like this for a while,” said the Clemson, S.C. native. “I’ve never done it and I wanted to get a feel for it; see how it actually is.”
Participants began the competition with an Army physical fitness test, then proceeded to the rifle range to put their marksmanship skills to the test. Following the range, Soldiers tested their common task skills in a series of training lanes, concluding with board members testing communication and knowledge skills.
Placencia earned herself an early advantage in the APFT by achieving a perfect score. Competing first as the only female at her battalion board and now as the only female at the brigade level Soldier of the Quarter competition meant something special to her. She said she wanted to make sure early on that ‘female’ wasn’t going to be how she was viewed.
“It’s definitely a motivation of mine, to show that females are just as capable as male Soldiers. There may be different standards for females but I feel that it’s all about our mentality and if we just put in some effort we can do anything a male is capable of doing. It’s more motivation for me to push through for females,” said Placencia.
The marksmanship portion challenged competitors to show who could earn the highest score with their assigned weapon. Before qualification test began, the participants were granted time to verify their M4s front and rear sight. Despite the fact that Ledford was the final person to ‘zero’ his weapon, he didn’t let that faze him.
“I think I was more nervous than anything,” he said. “Then once all that was over with I realized I really don’t have anything to be nervous about, I think I might have just been psyching myself up a little too much.”
All of the soldiers and NCOs started having difficulty when the training lanes began. The lanes tested their ability to complete range cards, to read and navigate maps, and to disassemble and reassemble weapons.
The final lane was a comprehensive scenario where the candidate had to take a simulated casualty all the way from point of injury, treat him, move the casualty to a pick up location, and call in a medical evacuation.
“My biggest challenge, hands down, would have to be the medical lane,” said Placencia. “I’ll have to say the casualty did kick my butt, but either way I was getting him through there, I was going to get him where I needed to get him,” said Placencia.
Both she and Ledford, being smaller-framed Soldiers, were at a slight disadvantage moving the casualty across the given distance while the Soldier was still wearing all of his tactical gear and armor.
“Yeah that guy was pretty heavy, but my coach, Staff Sgt. Ingraham, mentored me through that one, and his mentorship helped me a lot throughout the competition,” said Ledford.
Despite all the challenges, Ledford never forgot his primary motivation for being in the competition.
“I never wanted to just come here and do this for me,” he said. “I want to do it for my wife and kids so they can say ‘hey, he did this and he really is an outstanding Soldier’ and with [my wife’s] father being a sergeant major, I just want to show him that I’m a squared away guy.”
Throughout his deployment to Afghanistan, Ledford’s wife has been pregnant with his second child. To give him something that will keep him closer to his family, his wife sent him a stuffed giraffe that plays an audio recording of his unborn child’s heartbeat.
“That, probably more than anything has really helped me a lot over here,” said Ledford. “I still listen to it every night before I go to bed.”
Ledford had to remain focused during the competition; going into the competition’s final event, the board, all of the participants were still in the running to win.
Many of the highest ranking enlisted members of the brigade, one by one, tested the Soldiers and NCOs on a wide variety of military subjects. After the final participant went before the board, the leaders tallied the scores and announced the results.
“Doing all this definitely makes me see that if I put my mind to any task, I can accomplish it,” said Placencia after being named the 4th BCT Soldier of the Quarter, 1st Quarter, 2014. “I’m just looking forward to continuing as far as I can, push through my training, push through everything they throw at me, study more, practice more; all around it’s going to be a good experience for me.”
Sgt. John Keller, 2nd Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, earned the title of brigade NCO of the Quarter.
When 4th BCT, 10th Mtn. Div., returns to Fort Polk, La., he and Placencia will compete with all 4th BCT NCO/Soldier of the quarter competition winners. That soldier and NCO, will then represent the brigade at the 10th Mtn. Div. level at Fort Drum for the title NCO/Soldier of the Year.
Even though only one Soldier each quarter will earn the Soldier of the Quarter title, Ledford says he still feels the experience was a deeply rewarding and looks forward to testing himself in the future.
“I saw my flaws and what I need to work on. It was fun and I enjoyed competing. I think I did a lot better than I thought I would, which wasn’t bad for my first time out. Next time I’ll do even better,” he added.
He may have to wait until next time to try for the title, but Ledford says he takes great comfort in the consolation that soon his unit will begin their transition out of Afghanistan, and hopefully he can be present for the birth of the child that already means so much to him.