FORT BLISS, Texas -- For the second year in a row, the 402nd Field Artillery Brigade upheld its "best of the best" reputation as another 402nd Soldier won the First Army Soldier of the Year competition held last month at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J.

Spc. Michael Martin, a Reserve Soldier from 2-356 Task Force Redball, 402nd Field Artillery Brigade, Division West, is a "triple crown" winner, having won the First Army Soldier of the Year title after winning the Soldier of the Year title at division and brigade levels.

Martin, who is stationed at Fort Bliss, follows in the footsteps of Spc. Julie Dao, from 3rd Battalion, 363rd Combat Support Regiment, 402nd Field Artillery Brigade, Division West, who won the First Army Soldier of the Year title last year.

Martin said he's pleased with his performance, especially since it's his first time competing at such an event. He wasn't sure how well he'd do, and sure didn't expect to sweep all competitions. But he said he wanted to try competing because, if he won, it might help him in his efforts to become an active-duty Soldier.

"I really enjoyed the challenge. Each competition was progressively harder than the other, and each competition made me stronger," Martin said. "I definitely feel like I'm a better Soldier for having competed, and I think I proved I'm willing to work hard and do what needs to be done."

During the First Army competition, Martin excelled in several events, even beating the noncommissioned officer competitors in events such as the foot march and weapons qualifications.

Before he got to First Army's competition, though, he had to work hard to win at the lower levels.

"I really didn't know what to expect," said Martin. "I felt like I was somewhat prepared, because I trained on my own time learning and sustaining my warrior task drills. I was really happy to have the NCOs at brigade help me with some of the training, giving me an edge."

After the brigade competition here in March, the 402nd NCOs continued to train Martin, concentrating on strengthening his weaknesses.

The training paid off, as Martin edged out the competition in the Division West Noncommissioned Officer and Soldier of the Year Best Warrior Competition at Fort Hood, Texas, in April.

"After winning at division, I was sure he would go all the way," said Staff Sgt. Alsherdan Lopez, another Redball Soldier who competed at division, and who was Martin's sponsor. "He finished strong at Fort Hood, and we just had to keep his momentum going at [Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst]."

Martin now heads to the Forces Command Noncommissioned Officer and Soldier of the Year Competition later this summer, where he will try to raise the bar higher for the 402nd. If he wins there, he will advance to the Department of the Army level competition, with the potential to become the Army's 2013 Soldier of the Year.

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