CAMP PHOENIX, Kabul, Afghanistan— Staff Sgt. Kevin McMakin, 48th Brigade Headquarters and Headquarters Company earned the title of Non-Commissioned Officer of the Year for 2010, for the 48th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, during a demanding four-day competition. Spc. Gary Johnson, a combat engineer with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 48th Brigade Special Troops Battalion, also earned the title of 48th Brigade Warrior of the Year.
"To be selected as NCO of the Year for the 48th Brigade is a huge honor, one that I do not take lightly. I look forward to representing my fellow Soldiers well at the next level," said McMakin, a resident of Senoyia, Ga.
Each day of the competition brought different challenges, both physical and mental, for the six NCOs and six enlisted competitors. The challenges were daunting, from a written essay requiring them to discuss leadership philosophy; a personal appearance board; to the Army Physical Readiness Test which also included pull-ups; to the gruelling rucksack march each warrior had to endure.
"Training in combat is an essential aspect of sustaining the cutting edge while also executing the warfight. The 2010 48th IBCT NCO and Warrior of the Year competition was to provide the opportunity for our great Warriors to best prepare themselves for the competitive events that also add to their combat ability going forward," said Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Hurndon, 48th IBCT command sergeant major.
As the competition continued, these outstanding Soldiers demonstrated their military skills as well as their physical capacity to be the best at their profession.
A Soldier's basic skill to survive in the current combat environment was the focus of events such as map reading, combat life saver skills, weapons proficiency, communications, and even proper personnel search techniques. They were asked to display skill in all of the disciplines while being observed by evaluators who were looking for the slightest mistake in technique or procedure under an unrelenting freezing rain that ruled throughout most of the contest.
On day three, the most severe of the four days, with unyielding bitter cold and snow hardening each competitor, the competition moved to Kabul Military Training Center. KMTC is the principal military training facility in Afghanistan, and graduates thousands of Afghan soldiers annually, second only to Fort Jackson, S.C., in the world as to the number of Soldiers graduated annually.
The harsh terrain of KMTC was the perfect location for the nine-mile rucksack march. Each contestant carried over 100 pounds of gear and weapons during the event along the extremely rugged route that took them around Gharib Ghar, a mountain with an elevation of well over 7,000 feet.
The event, normally a 12 mile route, was reduced to nine miles due to the ruggedness of the terrain and was considered by all the competitors as the most difficult event of the four days.
The march took a significant physical toll on all of the warriors. Sgt. Jenna Ellyson, an assistant supply sergeant with Company C, 148th Brigade Support Battalion, showed the ultimate Volunteer spirit as she completed the event even after sustaining a knee injury during the march.
"This was the worst event considering I walked the last mile and a half with a blown out knee," Ellyson said.
During the award ceremony, Command Sgt. Maj. Michael Hall, the command sergeant major for ISAF/USFOR-Afghanistan, expressed the importance of the enlisted Soldiers and the junior leaders in this conflict.
"The counterinsurgency fight will be won or lost by our enlisted personnel, our sergeants, and the first line supervisors. It will be the maturity of these leaders that will ultimately make us successful," he said.
This competition also played out to an audience of the Afghan national army leaders. Sgt. Maj. Shah, Army GS/G1 for the ANA was very impressed with the professionalism of the competitors and how the competition was organized.
"These types of events are very important for the training of Soldiers and NCOs. It develops both the leadership and the training of those who compete.
We will copy what we have seen here and carry it over to our ANA training," he said.
"The comprehensive event was also a key component of providing the Afghan national army sergeants major "A WAY" to assist in enriching their Warriors and NCOs into the future," said Command Sgt. Major Hurndon.
The competitors were tired, but proud of their accomplishments during the competition, and many of them said they would be even more prepared next year.
"I am very honored to be selected as warrior of the year," said Johnson, a Statesboro, Ga., resident. "I plan to study everything to get ready for the state competition."
McMakin and Johnson will complete against selected candidates from the other major commands in the Georgia Army National Guard Soldier and NCO of the Year competition to be held at Ft. Benning, Ga., in mid March.