News: Army's NCO of Year reflects on last 12 months
Story by Sgt. 1st Class Jon Soucy
FORT BENNING, Ga. — At the Army National Guard's 2009 Best Warrior Competition being held this week here at the Warrior Training Center, a new Soldier and NCO will be crowned as the best of the best.
It also signifies the end to the tenure of Staff Sgt. Michael Noyce Merino as the Army's Non-commissioned Officer of the Year.
The Montana Army National Guardsman won the 2008 Army Guard competition before going on to win the Department of the Army-level competition.
Noyce Merino said the past year has been a busy one in that role. "It's been a whirlwind," he said, adding that half his year was spent travelling the country to places like San Antonio, D.C. and Wisconsin.
His duties as NCO of the Year involved taking part in various workshops and leadership training exercises that have affected not only enlisted Soldiers, but officers as well.
"I've gotten a chance to speak at a couple of the officer conferences and give them an enlisted perspective of leadership," said Noyce Merino. "That was important to me. I had a major come up to me and say 'you changed my outlook on leadership,' and that means a lot when an E-6 is counseling an O-4."
Other highlights from his year included having a one-on-one talk with former President George W. Bush and the chance to fly a helicopter.
"I was flying for about 20 minutes, almost enough to make me want to change my MOS, but not quite," he said.
Noyce Merino's year was highlighted even more with 2009 being designated by the Army as the Year of the NCO.
"I brag on the importance of the NCO corps in the Army," he said. "There were opportunities that I had to go commissioned or go warrant or do something else. But, you know what, being an NCO is a calling. We don't get paid as much, we don't get recognized as much, we don't get as much authority, but we're leaders and you have some of the most professional people in the military, who are in NCO positions because they want to be."
And that is something that Noyce Merino has an intense level of pride in.
"I want to be an NCO, and I'm proud of being a noncommissioned officer," he said. "I swear by the NCO creed. That is the DNA of enlisted leadership."
The past year has been a rewarding one, but Noyce Merino said he is ready to pass on his duties.
"I'm pretty happy to relinquish it actually," he said. "Another NCO should get the opportunity that I've gotten and I want to get back to work [as an NCO]. Being an NCO isn't about traveling around giving speeches, it's about leading. That's what I want to get back to, that's my job."
And as he watches the next round of competitors get ready for this year's competition at the Warrior Training Center, memories of last year return.
"It's good to come back," he said. "It's kind of neat to see where it all happened."
As the NCO of the Year, Noyce Merino has been able to visit many of the regional competitions that lead up to the DA competition.
"What I've seen this year is just the quality of every competition I've gone to has gone way, way up, and the motivation is there and a lot of heart and spirit," he said. "It's been great. Seeing this competition and seeing the NCOs that are going to come out of this, it's great."
He added that this year's competitors seem even tougher.
"I'm glad I'm watching rather than competing," he said. "It was pretty tough last year, and it's going to be fun to see it from the outside."