FORT MONROE, Va. - A training NCO from the ROTC program at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, and a military police sergeant from Fort Lee, Va., were named the 2009 U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command Noncommissioned Officer and Soldier of the Year, respectively, during a special ceremony here Thursday.

Sgt. 1st Class Corey King, representing U.S. Army Accessions Command (USAAC), and Sgt. Lauren Aldaco, representing the Combined Arms Support Command (CASCOM), outscored four other candidates during a four-day competition that measured overall fitness, oral and written communication skills, marksmanship, and knowledge of warrior tasks, battle drills and general military subjects.

The event concluded with an awards luncheon that was attended by Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, TRADOC Commanding General, and Command Sgt. Maj. David M. Bruner, TRADOC CSM, among other prominent guests.

"I was a little surprised when they called my name," said King, a father of five who joined the Army 17 years ago. "After all, I was competing against two other top-notch NCOs and we had no clue about scores or who did better at what event. I guess I'm just as proud about the accomplishments of everyone (who competed) as I am about winning the overall competition."

Aldaco described the moments leading up to the final announcement as "nerve-racking." All morning long, she said she was second-guessing herself ... "did I do as well as I could have here, did I mess up there'"

"But I won, and it's such an overwhelming feeling," said the Monterey Park, Calif., native who joined the Army in February 2006. "I feel very grateful to all the other competitors for sharing their knowledge and just being there to show their support. Even though you're competing individually, winning is a team effort because of that support."

The four other Soldiers who vied for the top TRADOC titles were: Sgt. 1st Class Chris Patterson, an electronic missile system repairman representing Redstone Arsenal, Ala., and CASCOM; Sgt. Jovan Luna, a chaplain assistant representing Fort Leavenworth, Kans., and the Combined Arms Center (CAC); Spc. Bailey Lee, a medical lab specialist representing Fort Sill, Okla., and the CAC; and Spc. Daniel Parker, an Army bandsman representing Fort Jackson, S.C., and USAAC.

All of the candidates agreed that one of the biggest challenges of the competition was the element of surprise. Only the Army Physical Fitness Test Monday morning was a foregone conclusion. Every other event was intentionally kept secret right up until the time each competitor was expected to complete the task.

"It not only increases the rigor of the competition, but also makes it more realistic," said Command Sgt. Maj. Bruner. "From day one in basic training, Soldiers are taught to think on their feet because you usually can't predict what's around that corner, especially in a combat environment. That's the strength of a warrior ... his ability to react quickly and do the right thing. That's also what we look for in choosing the top Soldiers in TRADOC."

The opening day of the TRADOC meet also included two written tasks - a 50-question, multiple-choice exam about general Soldiering subjects and a pair of essays addressing specified topics like the handling of an ethics dilemma in the candidates' lives and how it affected them personally, and what it means to be a leader of Soldiers or to join the Army during this time of war.

"You can learn a lot about the candidates through their responses to the essay questions," noted Sgt. 1st Class Guillermo Fontanez, the executive officer to the TRADOC CSM who was in charge of the competition. "It's a chance for them to share their views about the Army and what it means to wear a uniform. Those opinions count when you're evaluating the 'whole Soldier.'"

By 4 a.m. on day two of the competition, the nominees were on the road to Fort Eustis where a full day of field events lay ahead. It started with an "urban orienteering" exercise that not only tested the competitors' 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 discovery of an improvised explosive device.

The day continued with a weapons qualification range, followed by warrior task testing. A small platoon of specially trained NCOs from Fort Eustis created scenarios that closely resembled the challenges any Soldier might face in today's combat environment. At one station, the competitors had to search MOUT-site buildings for captured U.S. pilots. At another, they walked into a tent where multiple training dummies and role playing Soldiers were sprawled across the floor with simulated injuries like sucking chest wounds and missing limbs. The competitors were told to render immediate first aid and save as many lives as they could. There was also a security checkpoint where they conducted a vehicle and personnel search, and had to react to the discovery of an explosive device.

"Each element was carefully selected from the 32 Warrior Tasks and 12 Battle Drills that are currently being taught by the Army," the TRADOC CSM 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."

The command sergeant major 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.

"An eye-opening experience," is how Aldaco summed up the overall competition. "It's a reminder that all of those skills and experiences you gain in the Army are important, and you have to challenge yourself to take that next step toward being a better Soldier every day. Just go for it ... don't shy away because of that mistaken belief that you should never volunteer for anything."

"(This competition) is a pretty unique experience from the standpoint of a senior noncommissioned officer trying to be the best at those things we expect our Soldier and junior leaders to do," King said. "It brings you back to the basics; things we don't use every day, but are still vital to every Soldier."

To get through the competition, the sergeant first class said he "embraced Mr. Humility."

"He was with me every day this week. There would be times when I messed up and I just looked at it as another challenge to overcome. That's when you make those mental notes for the next time. Failure in itself isn't always a bad thing; it's just a part of learning. That's why I just put a smile on my face and keep on truckin'."

Both of the winning Soldiers said they are looking forward to representing TRADOC at the 2009 Army NCO and Soldier of the Year "Best Warrior" competition in September at Fort Lee, Va., and Washington, D.C.

"It's a challenge for me to prepare for these competitions since the closest military installation is a five-hour drive away (from his home in Texas)," King said. "You also have to balance it with your regular duties and family time of course. Despite all that, however, I wouldn't change this outcome whatsoever. I'm proud to have the opportunity to represent TRADOC at the next level."

Aldaco echoed the sentiment and added a simple statement: "I don't like to lose." After returning to Fort Lee, she is planning to spend as much time as possible at firing ranges and Soldier skill testing events.

"Whatever it takes to live up to the reputation of being 'the best Soldier TRADOC has to offer,' I'll do it. Nothing about it is going to be easy, but I'm ready to tackle it the best way that I can."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16