Aviation Center of Excellence Soldiers compete for top honors
March 21, 2013
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (March 21, 2013) -- Nineteen Soldiers and noncommissioned officers from across the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence had the opportunity to compete against one another through events that tested their physical prowess as well as their mental agility.
The 2013 USAACE Soldier, Noncommissioned Officer and Advanced Individual Training, or AIT, Platoon Sergeant of the Year competition, held March 11-1, pushed Soldiers to their limits, but only three came out on top: Pfc. David B. Coppersmith, B Company, 1st Battalion, 11th Aviation Regiment, 110th Aviation Brigade, won Soldier of the Year; Staff Sgt. Lonnie T. Gilstrap, A Co. 1st Bn. 13th Avn. Regt., 1st Avn. Bde., won Noncommissioned Officer of the Year; and Staff Sgt. Alexis Bastidas, B Co., 1st Bn., 222nd Avn. Regt., 128th Avn. Bde., won AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year.
"It's an honor to just be part of this competition, but to win and represent my unit is the greater honor," said Bastidas. "It feels great to able to represent my unit. Not only them, but everybody that helped us train to get where we are both physically and mentally."
This year's competition was different from previous years in that it was much more extensive, according to Command Sgt. Maj. James H. Thomson Jr., Aviation Branch command sergeant major.
"Years previous, it was a much more scaled-down event," he said. "Just some hands-on testing and a board in front of senior NCOs (noncommissioned officers), so we really expanded the aperture and invited more participants to come in."
The Soldiers had to endure several events throughout the competition: a 6-mile foot march, during which each Soldier was issued a 30-pound ruck sack and dummy rifle; land navigation exercise, during which each Soldier was tasked with finding specific points on a map; shooting range events, during which Soldiers were only allotted a certain number of rounds to hit targets with; a mystery event that encompassed physical skills mixed with mental proficiencies; and Soldier, NCO and AIT PSG boards, which required Soldiers to answer questions regarding their training and Army Aviation.
The early-morning 6-mile road march kicked off the competition, with each competitor having to complete it within 90 minutes to continue through the competition, and the fastest time received extra points, according Thomson.
"Doing that six-mile ruck march with 30 pounds on your back and running is tough," said Coppersmith.
Gilstrap agreed, adding that the road march, coupled with the land navigation, was the hardest part of the competition.
"I think in total I went about 11 and a half miles, and that was pretty challenging," he said.
The winners were announced during a ceremony at the U.S. Army Aviation Museum March 13.
"Every one of these Soldiers and noncommissioned officers really gave it their all," said Thomson. "I can tell you that they left their hearts and souls out on that field yesterday."
All the Soldiers throughout the competition knew of each event they had to compete in except for one -- the mystery event.
The mystery event was held at Lake Tholocco and required participants to complete three challenges. First they had to jump into a canoe, and row their canoe against wind and currents to an island where they had the opportunity to retrieve an arrow. They were able to go back to the island as many times as they could within 15 minutes to retrieve up to five arrows.
After they retrieved their arrows, they were required to report to the next station where they were tasked with completing a puzzle. Based on whether they completed the puzzle or not determined how many points their arrow would be worth, said Thomson.
After the puzzle, Soldiers had to shoot their arrows into a target to make their points count toward their final score.
The winners were determined by combining points from all events, and Thomson said during the ceremony that the Soldier of the Year was determined within three to four points, and the NCO of the year was determined with a difference of one point.
Each winner said that they would do it all over again if they had the opportunity, no matter the outcome, and some shared advice that they would give to future Soldiers who wish to compete.
"You have to train every single day," said Bastidas. "We've been training since Day 1 -- since when we joined the Army -- but for something like this, you have to train seven days a week."