FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- Four Soldiers claimed Soldier and Noncommissioned Officer of the Year titles at the annual Southeast Regional Veterinary Command and U.S. Army Dental Lab competition here.

Spc. David Schuler and Staff Sgt. Antonio Santini-Rivera took home VETCOM Soldier and NCO of the Year honors after four mentally, physically and emotionally grueling days last week. Dental Command winners were NCO of the Year Staff Sgt. Christopher Ciro and Soldier of the Year Sgt. Roger Martin.

The competition brought a dozen Soldiers together to improve their warrior tasks and leadership abilities, according to Staff Sgt. Jim Howard, Fort Rucker Gulf Coast District Veterinary Command operations NCO. He said the group included Soldiers from Fort Campbell, Ky., to Fort Buchanan, Puerto Rico.

"It sets you above your peers. It allows you to show you have this level of knowledge. You're setting yourself above and beyond," Howard said.

Fort Gordon, Ga., Southeast Regional VETCOM Sgt. Maj. Patricia Navarro recognized Schuler, a Redstone Arsenal Veterinary Services food inspector, and Santini-Rivera, South Atlantic District Veterinary Command, Key West, Fla., section NCOIC, during a brief ceremony at Lyster Army Health Clinic Jan. 14.

Ciro, Fort Gordon, Ga., U.S. Army Dental Lab training NCO, and Martin, USADL dental lab sergeant, received their accolades during a Jan. 15 Fort Gordon ceremony.

In order to participate in the competition here, Soldiers voluntarily competed in Soldier and NCO of the quarter boards at their home stations as well as at district levels. Winning Soldiers now move on to VETCOM and DENCOM level competitions, held next month in San Antonio, Texas, and Fort Bragg, N.C., respectively.

Last year's VETCOM NCO of the Year, Sgt. Francisco Olivo, South Atlantic Veterinary Clinc, Patrick Air Force Base, Fla., branch training NCO, will defend his title against Santini-Rivera in next month's event.

Before reaching these accomplishments, the Soldiers braved early mornings and cold weather last week, performing physical fitness tests, oral and written examinations, land navigation courses, Army warrior tasks, 6-mile ruck marches, weapons qualifications, leadership reaction courses and combative exercises.

Navarro credited the Soldiers' success to "outstanding" training and teamwork.
Extensive physical conditioning and studying Army knowledge is why Schuler said he garnered his award. He added his strategy remains the same for VETCOM.

Santini-Rivera credited his home unit for his success and said he believes he can excel at the next level.

"I am really proud of what my unit has done to prepare me for this challenge," he said. "I'm shooting for the stars. I'm going all-Army. Now it's all up to me how hard I push myself."

Olivo said he returns to the next level of competition with confidence and said he feels he has an advantage of knowing what to expect. He said the most challenging aspect of the regional competition was the leadership reaction course because it forced him to make split-second decisions as a leader. His favorite activity was the ruck march, where he finished first place in 1 hour, 5 minutes.

Staff Sgt. David Hof, USADL NCO-in-charge, was proud of his Soldiers' efforts.
"The day with land navigation and warrior task lanes was the most challenging but also the most successful. They were able to test their skills," he said.

Hof said while many lessons learned will prove useful on future deployments, the crux of the competition is to "give (Soldiers) more incentive to push themselves, further their careers and separate themselves from the rest of the pack."

Ciro said he completed just that by proving to himself, his Family and unit members that he could excel in the competition. He said he plans to concentrate on PT and oral presentation to prepare for DENCOM.

Remaining focused and motivated pushed Martin through the competition. He said he is excited to move onto the next level and wants "to win the whole thing."

He passes lessons from his experiences here to his young Soldiers at home.

"Never give up and always try to improve yourself,"Martin said. "It's a good learning experience. Always do your best."

Martin competed for top Soldier, instead of NCO, because he had not made his present rank when originally entering the competition, Howard noted.

Howard said privates through sergeants first class with less than 18 years of service should speak with their chains of command if interested in entering next year. Competition locations rotate throughout regional posts yearly, Hof noted.

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