Duran is first Army AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year
Staff Sgt. Luis Duran representing Company E, 71st Transportation Battalion, 8th Transportation Brigade, Fort Eustis, Va., was named the first Advanced Individual Training Platoon Sergeant of the Year during a ceremony on Fort Monroe, Va., on Sept. 3. Command Sgt. Maj. David Bruner, TRADOC senior enlisted advisor, and Lt. Gen. David Valcourt, TRADOC deputy commanding general, present the 2009 AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year award along with the Meritorious Service Medal to Duran.

FORT MONROE, Va. (Sept. 3, 2009) -- Staff Sgt. Luis Duran representing Company E, 71st Transportation Battalion, 8th Transportation Brigade, Fort Eustis, Va., was named the first Advanced Individual Training Platoon Sergeant of the Year during a ceremony at the Casemate Museum here on Sept. 3.

"I didn't believe I won," said Duran. "I thought every noncommissioned officer did outstanding, and successfully. For me to be called, it was surreal."

This Army first brought the top 13 AIT platoon sergeants from around the country for a three-day competition testing them on warrior tasks and battle drills as well as their interaction with Soldiers in a training setting.

Tasks included: teaching Soldiers how to perform physical training exercises, teaching combatives, completing written tests and essays, assembling and disassembling arms, administering medical care, and helping Soldiers who face darker times.

"Everything we did in this competition mirrored what we do from day to day," said Duran. "We help Soldiers with pay problems, lead PT, counsel Soldiers daily. The task of helping a suicidal Soldier is extremely important. [Unfortunately,] we do have to deal with this, but I think we're trained to deal with the situation."

Standard with all TRADOC competitions, the schedule remained in close-hold and the tasks were a surprise to the platoon sergeants.

"I'm sitting in front of a building not knowing what I'm going to do next," said Staff Sgt. Bernie Mullen representing Fort Knox, Ky. "But once you get in there, you see the task that you have in front of you and realize that it's something you do on a daily basis."

The competition also provided professional development opportunities among peers.

"I'm learning a lot about what other platoon sergeants are facing, and hearing stories from their side of the house is interesting," said Sgt. 1st Class Nathan Early from the Defense Language Center at the Presidio of Monterey, Calif.

"We talk about the issues and see what we're doing to help Soldiers on our sides," said Sgt. 1st Class Lynn Gray. "It's something new and a once in a lifetime opportunity."

The heart of the competition lies in recognizing platoon sergeants for their contributions to an Army at war. After basic combat training, new privates attend AIT, which helps them become experts in their specific military occupational specialties.

Drill sergeants were present in AIT until 2008, when they were replaced with platoon sergeants who taught technical skills while serving as a mentor to recent BCT graduates. Once Soldiers complete AIT, they are assigned to a unit.

Command Sgt. Maj. David Bruner, TRADOC enlisted advisor to the commanding general, addresses the change from drill sergeants to platoon sergeants as a way to further prepare students for their first duty station.

"[AIT platoon sergeants] are mentors and subject matter experts in their military occupational specialty whereas drill sergeants are not," he said. "Say I fix aircraft. Now I can go to the AIT platoon sergeant and ask questions about my MOS, not just what the instructors are teaching, but also what to expect when I report to my first duty station. I think that's huge. History is made again at Fort Monroe."

"AIT is where you learn your job," said Sgt. 1st Class Herbert Thompson, 2008 Drill Sergeant of the Year and competition organizer. "We all hear about drill sergeants and how that's a tough job and recruiters, that's a tough job too. Hopefully [the competition] brings some recognition to AIT platoon sergeants and people can appreciate what they bring to the fight."

Depending on the MOS, AIT can last from as short as two weeks to as long as several months. There are more than 700 Army platoon sergeants at 24 schools and training centers. AIT platoon sergeants work with students after classes and on weekends to teach and reinforce technical lessons, warrior tasks and battle drills, and other tactical skills.

"At nights and on the weekends the students are with me," said Mullen. "They're going through urban orienteering, convoy live-fire and ordnance history. They go to the zero range, U.S. Army history, Army values training and stuff like that."

Serving as the final buffer between Soldier-in-training to unit member, AIT platoon sergeants find reward in their jobs.

"We're all doing our best to do the same thing," said Sgt. 1st Class Frankie Crawford representing Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md. "We're preparing Soldiers to go operational and into combat, so I like to think we're the last line before they go there and hit it strong-on."

"Me and a lot of other AIT platoon sergeants are giving pointers about deployment and what to expect, but we also let them know that every deployment is different and every unit is different," said Duran. "Procedures change all the time and they have to be adaptable to change and how the Army changes."

Duran received a Meritorious Service Medal during the ceremony as well as a plaque. Bruner will present the AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year trophy in a ceremony at Fort Eustis for Duran's peers, family and friends. Duran will also attend the fall 2009 Association of the United States Army conference in Washington, D.C., with TRADOC senior leaders.

"It's huge to be the first Platoon Sergeant of the Year. It's up there with the Drill Sergeants and the NCO of the Year. And it's an honor to be the first PSOY especially during the Year of the NCO," said Duran.

"It was an honor and a privilege, and my battle buddies are all winners," he said. "I'm no different."

Page last updated Thu September 3rd, 2009 at 14:34