ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- Staff Sgt. Joshua Menninger captured top honors May 23 after a week of competition that tested four noncommissioned officers' physical abilities, endurance and technical expertise.

Menninger earned recognition as the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command's NCO of the Year.

RDECOM Director Dale Ormond and Command Sgt. Maj. Lebert Beharie, RDECOM's senior enlisted advisor, congratulated Menninger and presented him with an Army backpack, football jersey and coffee mug.

Ormond thanked the four NCOs for their effort during the four days of rigorous competition.

"I commend you for being chosen by your organizations to come," Ormond said. "I appreciate you for stepping up. It's a tremendous honor for us to be able to honor you for taking on the challenges of the past few days."

Menninger, a counter-mine section leader assigned to Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center's Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate at Fort Belvoir, Va., now advances to the Army Materiel Command NCO of the Year competition.

Also vying for the honors were:

-- Staff Sgt. Joshua Hawes, an explosive ordnance disposal technician assigned to Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center, EOD Technology Directorate, at Picatinny Arsenal, N.J.

-- Staff Sgt. Eric Linder, a UH-60 maintenance supervisor assigned to Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center's Aviation Applied Technology Directorate at Fort Eustis, Va.

-- Sgt. Charles Andrzejewski, an infantryman assigned to Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center at Natick, Mass.

The NCOs discussed their backgrounds, personal goals and combat tours with the RDECOM public affairs office during the competition week.

FAMILY TRADITION OF MILITARY SERVICE

The four participants' family histories of military service played a significant role in their decisions to enlist in the Army, they said. Each has multiple family members who have served.

Menninger's father and brother served in the Marine Corps and his uncle in the Army.

"My dad wanted me to join the Marines. I started talking to recruiters, and the Army seemed like a better option for me. I came from a mostly military family. I had a pretty good representation of the military in general before I came in. I love what we do and what we stand for," Menninger said.

Hawes shared a similar sentiment.

"I wanted to join the Army even when I was in elementary school. It was always something I wanted to do. My grandfathers both served," Hawes said.

GAINING EXPERIENCE FROM DEPLOYMENTS

Each of the NCOs has deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan and said they have learned tremendously from their experiences in theater. They are now using that knowledge stateside to improve themselves as Soldiers.

A common theme among the NCOs is sharing their expertise with younger, junior enlisted Soldiers. Andrzejewski deployed five times to Iraq and Afghanistan.

"NCOs need to train like they're still deploying. The NCOs have to step up and make sure their Soldiers are trained and ready just in case another conflict does happen," Andrzejewski said.

Linder stressed the importance of passing on the lessons learned from combat.

"NCOs need to write down what we've learned over this time in the war. We have a problem writing stuff down," Linder said. "A lot of times manuals are written by civilians and officers. We lose some of that information once it's word of mouth. It doesn't necessarily get passed down if somebody leaves when you have a drawdown."

Hawes agreed that there is a tremendous amount of practical experience that needs to be captured before it is lost as the Army begins a drawdown. The learning curve as an EOD technician is steep, he said.

"IEDs had never been what they were during this war. They were small mines. At the beginning of this war we relied a lot on manuals and didn't have a lot of experience," Hawes said. "Now we have this vast amount of experience. We need to keep experienced NCOs in the Army even though we're trying to cut back. Let them trickle down experience that guys can't get from manuals."

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE

Leadership has been the most significant quality gained from their Army service, the NCOs said. The Soldiers are planning to use their leadership skills, along with their educational benefits, as they look forward to their remaining time in uniform and subsequent civilian careers.

Menninger said he has matured greatly since graduating from high school. He hopes to become an honor graduate at the Sapper Leader Course and complete his associate's degree in fire science and a bachelor's degree in environmental science.

"I was pretty immature as a 17-year-old. I grew as a man. I've learned leadership, management and maturity. You have to learn to take care of, not only yourself, but others," Menninger said. "I've had the opportunity to be around a lot of strong leadership and mentors. It keeps driving me toward success. I have a young daughter who motivates me all the time."

Linder found inspiration for his future at an early age.

"I wanted to be a Black Hawk crew chief since I was 8 years old," Linder said. "My parents took me to a National Guard display, and I sat in a Black Hawk. I wanted to work on Cobras, but they said the Cobra was going away. I asked, 'what about that thing?' That's the Black Hawk. I wanted to work on that."

Linder is working toward a degree in mechanical or electrical engineering. He has 15 years of experience in aviation through the Army and hopes to become a civilian engineer in the same field.

"I've learned a lot about how that works being with RDECOM," Linder said.

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RDECOM has the mission to develop technology and engineering solutions for America's Soldiers. It is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command. AMC is the Army's premier provider of materiel readiness -- technology, acquisition support, materiel development, logistics power projection, and sustainment -- to the total force, across the spectrum of joint military operations. If a Soldier shoots it, drives it, flies it, wears it, eats it or communicates with it, AMC provides it.

Page last updated Thu May 23rd, 2013 at 00:00