SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii -- If someone asked Pfc. Jose Figueroa the USARPAC Soldier of the year, 23 months young in the Army, what set him above his competition, he wouldn't tell you, he would show you.

Defined by a quiet professionalism, not military specialty or rank, Figueroa, an equipment parts and record specialist Soldier from the 536th Support Maintenance Company, 524th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 45th Sustainment Brigade, outpaced his competitors in the Army Physical Fitness Test, he demonstrated superior knowledge during warrior tasks, and displayed unmatched confidence in the Army boards.

Simply put Figueroa has an 'awe shucks' personality with the fight of a tiger.

But when you break through Figueroa's modesty and humbleness you understand he's focused on never taking anything for granted again.

"I get my drive from all my lost time -- I'm trying to catch up," said Figueroa.

"I put off joining the army for a while," he continued "I didn't join till I was 23, six year after high school."

While other younger Soldiers played video games and took their first baby steps into the real world, Figueroa provided for a family of five watched the first baby steps of his two daughters and boy.

And as Figueroa plays catch-up in the army experience, leading five souls through the world created a personal foundation his competitors could only look in awe on as they stumbled with the army field manuals on duty and leadership.

The funny thing though, Figueroa's path to the Army Soldier of the year competition almost never happened.

That's where Figueroa's champion stepped in, his NCO, Sgt. Gaualofa Fuga, 536th Spt. Maint. Co.

"They we're kicking out Soldiers on the first day of the brigade competition because they had too many competitors and parts of packet we didn't know about were missing," said Fuga. "But we hustled and I looked at Fig and said do you think I'm going to let them kick you out."

And from there an unbreakable bond formed

While Figueroa kept his family at ease with late night phone calls from the barracks, Fuga was his family in the field. She provided his meals and gave him support.

"She was there whenever I needed her," said Figueroa.

Support she didn't force on him when he showed up in her unit.

"I always saw him as one of the elite soldiers, regardless of if he was in this competition or not."

But she said she didn't force him to do this competition he asked her. And she jumped on the opportunity to be his sponsor and gave Figueroa one single mantra for him to follow -- "Make this time count."

And Figueroa did, he made his time count. He not only played catch up, he passed his peers.

But what is Figueroa; a family man with drive, a role model to all ranks, a Soldier chasing a dream?

He won't tell you that, but if you watch him he can show you.

Page last updated Fri July 13th, 2012 at 00:00