USAAC Soldiers win top TRADOC titles
July 21, 2008
FORT MONROE, Va. - A Reserve Officer Training Corps instructor from the University of Wisconsin - La Crosse, and an infantryman from Fort Benning, Ga., were named the 2008 U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command NCO and Soldier of the Year, respectively, during a special ceremony here July 17.
Sgt. 1st Class Brian L. Eisch and Spc. Daniel J. Horner, both representing U.S. Army Accessions Command (USAAC), outscored three other candidates during the four-day competition that measured overall fitness, oral and written communication skills, knowledge of warrior tasks and battle drills, marksmanship, and general military subjects. The event concluded with an awards luncheon that was attended by Gen. William S. Wallace, TRADOC Commanding General, and Command Sgt. Maj. David M. Bruner, TRADOC CSM, among other important guests.
"Up until that moment when they announced my name, I honestly didn't think I had won," said Sgt. 1st Class Eisch, the NCO of the year. "The competition was just that good ... none of us knew where we stood at any point over the past four days. I knew I did well on the marksmanship, but that was only one event out of many. In the end, it was a total surprise. Any one of these guys could have been declared the winner."
Spc. Horner also described his Soldier of the Year win as unanticipated. "I'm pretty sure none of us woke up this morning thinking we had it in the bag. I felt good about my performance with the physical and hands-on stuff, but there were other areas where Sgt. (Paul) Li probably scored just as high. So I came to the luncheon today thinking 'you did what you had to do, and let the best Soldier win.' I'm honored to be the one who came out on top."
Sgt. Li, an intelligence analyst representing Fort Knox, Ky., and the Combined Arms Center, was the only other Soldier of the Year candidate at this year's meet. In addition to Sgt. 1st Class Eisch, the NCO of the Year nominees were Staff Sgt. Anthony Marvan, a chemical operations NCO and instructor representing Redstone Arsenal, Ala, and the Combined Arms Support Command, and Sgt. Joshua Altice, a corrections NCO representing Fort Leavenworth, Kans., and the Combined Arms Center.
Both Sgt. 1st Class Eisch and Spc. Horner agreed that the toughest element of the TRADOC meet was the uncertainty of what was coming next. Only the Army Physical Fitness Test on the opening morning of the competition was a foregone conclusion. Every other event was intentionally kept secret right up until the time each candidate was expected to complete the task.
"The element of surprise kept the candidates at the top of their games," noted Sgt. 1st Class Delfin Romani, the 2007 U.S. Army Drill Sergeant of the Year who helped to plan and coordinate the recent competition. "Not knowing which task or battle drill was next added an extra level of complexity to the event as well."
The opening day of the TRADOC meet also included two written tasks - a 50-question, multiple-choice exam about general Soldiering subjects and each competitor had to write an essay on one of two topics: the handling of an ethics dilemma in the candidates lives and how it affected them personally or the possible pros and cons of the new GI Bill benefit that President Bush recently signed into law.
By 5 a.m. on day two of the competition, the nominees were on the road to Fort Eustis where a full day of field testing lay ahead. It started with an M-4 rifle qualification range followed by an "urban orienteering" exercise that not only tested their knowledge of basic skills (setting up a radio and terrain association, for example) but also how quickly they could think on their feet when encountering dilemmas like suspicious activity by unknown individuals or the detonation of an improvised explosive device.
The day continued with warrior task testing. A small platoon of specially trained NCOs from forts Monroe and Eustis created scenarios that closely resembled the challenges any Soldier might face in today's combat environment. At one station, the two-Soldier teams had to search MOUT-site buildings for enemy insurgents. At another, they encountered a vehicle that had been recently ambushed and was surrounded by simulated casualties with some fairly serious wounds. The competitors were told to render immediate first aid and conduct an evacuation. There was also a security checkpoint where they demonstrated their knowledge of the M240B machine gun, conducted a vehicle and personnel search, and detained suspicious intruders.
"Each element was carefully selected from the 32 Warrior Tasks and 12 Battle Drills that are currently being taught by the Army," the TRADOC Command Sergeant Major explained. "They not only tested the competitors' knowledge of the task, but also how it applied in a battle-focused and realistic scenario. With this kind of preparation, we are confident (the winning Soldiers) will be ready to compete at Army level and represent the Training and Doctrine Command."
Command Sgt. Maj. Bruner also noted that different scoring systems were used for each tasking, which allowed the command to reward every aspect of the competition without putting too much emphasis in any one area. "The end result, of course, was that we were able to select the most well-rounded Soldier and NCO."
On day three of the TRADOC meet, each of the competing Soldiers appeared before a board comprised of first sergeants from Forts Monroe and Eustis and the TRADOC CSM. Tested subjects included current events, the wear and appearance of the Army uniform, military leadership and counseling, the code of conduct, military justice, U.S. Army history, and a whole lot more.
"A good time and a good learning experience," is how Spc. Horner summed up the overall competition. In the end, he said he felt that all of its required tasks in general were sort of what he expected when he was readying himself for the meet, and the fact that he's assigned to the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit at Fort Benning probably gave him an advantage.
"It helped with the rifle (qualifications), I ain't gonna lie," he joked. "And I'm a competitor ... I don't care if it's rifle or rubber band shooting; if there's a winner, I want to be there. So, in my opinion, an event like this is a reward for doing your job well. It gets you out there with smart people who have a lot of different experiences, and in the case of this competition, you really get to learn a lot of things you didn't know before."
Sgt. 1st Class Eisch, who has been around the Army since 1992 and once served as a drill sergeant at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., had good things to say about the organization and resourcing of the overall meet. "When you have an event of this size and scope, there are going to be hiccups ... things that just go wrong no matter how well you planned or choreographed them. But if that was the case here, we as candidates never saw it. That tells me that the planning and contingency preparations must have been through the roof. It came across as very well organized and professional, and my hat is off them (the NCOs who put the competition together). It was awesome."
The Hortonville, Wis., native also reflected on the much-needed opportunity to "get out of his comfort zone." Competing for TRADOC NCO of the Year was the farthest thing from his mind in the beginning, Sgt. 1st Class Eisch noted. "When my boss came to me and said 'I want you to do this," I responded: 'how can I do it when I have to teach these classes, worry about resources, train cadets and all this other stuff'' He said, 'give me a good reason why you can't' and I said, 'okay, I see where this is going ... so let's go.'
"Honestly, I really didn't want any of this in the beginning. But pride takes over, and you realize that you don't want to lose either. So I approached it with a smile on my face and just had fun. And it all came down to the question someone asked me a couple of days ago; why I felt I deserved to be competing for NCO of the Year' I thought about the patch on my shoulder and my responsibility within (USAAC), and I said, 'I train officers who represent the future leadership of America, but who checks me'' This competition has truly brought me back to the basics. It is retraining me and assessing my abilities to be a Soldier first. It got me out of that comfort zone."
Both of the winning Soldiers said they are looking forward to representing TRADOC at the 2008 Army NCO and Soldier of the Year "Best Warrior" competition this fall at Fort Lee, Va., and Washington, D.C. Spc. Horner - who completed sniper school earlier this year and holds at least six different marksmanship titles - said he'll continue to take advantage of the wealth of experience at Fort Benning while preparing for the next level. Sgt. 1st Class Eisch said he'll prepare in much the same way as he did for the TRADOC meet, but he'll take it up about eight levels.
"Right now, all I'm thinking about is what I've accomplished here, but what lies ahead will probably slap me pretty hard in the face Monday morning and I'll get started. The wheels are spinning, and I'm going to do what I think I need to in order to compete for the Army title."
For more information about each of the 2008 TRADOC NCO and Soldier of the Year competitors and additional photos of the July 14-17 meet, visit www.tradoc.army.mil.