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    2016 Soldier of the Year Competition: Seven soldiers bring the best the Florida guard has to offer

    2016 Soldier of the Year Competition

    Photo By Sgt. Spencer Rhodes | Army Sgt. Edgar Valdez writes down the needed adjustments for the sights to his rifle...... read more read more



    Story by Sgt. Spencer Rhodes 

    107th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

    CAMP BLANDING, Fla. -- A two-day stint at Camp Blanding Joint Training Center is normally a time period that would be considered short for most Soldiers who have done training here in the past. This weekend however would be different for the seven soldiers representing the various brigades across the Florida Army National Guard, here to vie for victory in the 2016 Soldier of the Year competition, as the rigors of the contest would make their two days anything but short.

    The Soldier of the Year is an annual event with two separate categories, noncommissioned officer and junior enlisted, and allows each unit to send who they believe is their best at that time. It is a demanding event intended to test their physical and mental and resiliency through their personal physical fitness, working knowledge of Army history, warrior tasks and drills, military professionalism and weapon proficiency.

    The event started out at a full run Friday morning, literally for some, as the six-mile ruck march, began at 5:30 a.m. Spc. Manuel Vallejo, a young Soldier from Bravo Battery, 2nd Battalion 116th Field Artillery Regiment and standout in all areas of physical fitness this weekend, finished the march in just over an hour.

    Sgt. 1st Class Casey Ducharme, who was there to see his Soldiers compete, says during his drive to work it's not uncommon to see Vallejo out training and it’s no surprise he is as fit as he is.

    “I’ve driven past him when he’s on this six mile out, six mile back route, wearing a running mask and a weighted vest,” said Ducharme.

    Following the ruck march, Friday would continue at a nonstop pace, where they would qualify with an M4 Carbine at the rifle range, complete a series of stations evaluating them on grenade toss, casualty care and assessment, radio assembly and etiquette, calling in a 9-line Medevac request, and the disassembly and reassembly of an M9 pistol. All this by mid-afternoon before cleaning up and donning their military dress uniforms for a Soldier Board.

    For a military branches, the board is a stressful activity that requires an acute proficiency in military bearing, ceremony, and academic military knowledge. Entering the room alone, each individual sits in a chair directly opposite a panel of sergeants major who meticulously judge them on presentation and their answers to a line of questioning. Studying is as crucial to victory in these events as physical fitness.

    “We would be in the field doing some of our gunners tests and we’ll start shooting questions back and forth, we’ll even have help from those around us who know some of the answers as well,” said Staff Sgt. Travis Ugarte, who is also from the same unit as Vallejo and drove to the competition with him. “On our drive up here we were cramming and going over question after question after question.”

    The last day consisted of two events: the Army Physical Fitness Test and a three-hour land navigation course, which pushed Soldiers to focus and stay active despite their exhaustion. It would be the last test of the day, which would be followed that evening by a ceremony celebrating the effort of the participants involved and naming the winners of the competition. After two days of extreme effort by everyone who were there, Vallejo and Ugarte were announced 2016 Florida Noncommissioned Officer and Soldier of the Year.

    Sgt. Major Thomas Delano, operations sergeant major for CBJTC, who has experience in creating these competitions, was previously one of the main architects in the 2014 Region III Soldier of the Year competition and continued to facilitate this role alongside the NCOs of the Regional Training Institute in creating this year’s state event.

    “We always want to identify the best Soldiers to represent us in the regional competition, and I think we’ve done that this year, through the rigorous events they’ve done here in the last two days,” said Delano.

    For Vallejo, this is first time making it this far and says being able to pair up with Staff Sgt. Ugarte, who has been doing the competitions for a long time, including two state Florida Soldier of the Year competitions and the 2014 Region III event, made all the difference.

    “He’s been my mentor since the first time I even stepped into a board, he originally pushed me to go to a board. He’s done everything he can for me, and I couldn't have done it without him,” said Vallejo. “I am the Soldier I am now because of him, and I’m going to take that to the next level, building off my own soldiering skills and remembering what he’s taught me, I’ll take that as far as I can.”



    Date Taken: 03.19.2016
    Date Posted: 03.20.2016 20:19
    Story ID: 192980
    Location: STARKE, FL, US 

    Web Views: 864
    Downloads: 1