By David VergunDecember 19, 2013
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Dec. 19, 2013) -- The Soldier and Non-commissioned Officer of the Year "represent the many great Soldiers in our active and reserve components," said Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray T. Odierno.
With more than a million Soldiers in the field of competition, these two took first place in the Best Warrior competition, he said, speaking at the NCO and Soldier of the Year recognition ceremony in the Pentagon, which he hosted Dec. 18, 2013.
The winners are Sgt. 1st Class Jason Manella, a civil affairs specialist with the Army Reserve Command, in Mountain View, Calif., and Spc. Adam Christensen, a military policeman at Fort Wainwright, Alaska.
Their recognition and the competition itself were delayed this year, due to the government shutdown, Odierno pointed out. The ceremony normally takes place during the October AUSA convention here.
Despite the change of venue, Odierno said it was fitting to have the ceremony at the Pentagon this year, to remind the support staff here that the strength of the Army is its Soldiers, which these winners represent.
"It's important for us, especially here in the Pentagon, to understand why we do the work we do," he said. "It is to support our Soldiers, provide guidance, policy and resources to ensure they can do their job."
"We will ask them at some time, and have already asked them, to be deployed and perform these missions in environments that are incredibly difficult in this complex world that we live in -- and it won't get any easier," he continued. "That's why it's important to recognize their excellence."
Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III also spoke.
"These are the Army's best of the best," he said, noting that it took "physical and mental agility, commitment, character and competence" to climb to the top, and that those in second and third place were just a few points behind.
As to why the Army holds the Best Warrior competition, Chandler said, "when you look across the spectrum of the Army, their examples serve as a guide for what Soldiers aspire to be and as role models, Soldiers look up to them and say, 'I want to be like that.'
"Our Army is in great hands and our future is set by the example these Soldiers provide for our nation and our Army. They are, in fact, the epitome of what we look for in our Soldiers today and in the future."
Chandler added that it's not every day a Soldier gets the Meritorious Service Medal pinned on their chest by the chief of staff of the Army. Both received the medal during the ceremony.
Odierno recognized Christensen first, noting that before joining the Army at age 26, he was a plumber.
At some point, Christensen realized that "he wanted to be part of something greater than himself," Oldierno said. "So he decided to join the Army. We're thankful that he made that decision because we're confident he'll contribute back to this great Army for a very long time."
After the ceremony, Christensen was asked how it felt being a role model and living up to high expectations.
"I've always felt that every time I put on the uniform, I'm being a role model," he replied. "Everyone is looking at you to see how you carry yourself. And I want to pass on the best image. You are always representing yourself, your family and the Army."
He joked that he sometimes gets teased when he walks into a room back at his unit where someone will call everyone to attention when he walks in.
Christensen said he enjoys Army life and the camaraderie he has with other Soldiers. As for future plans, he's training up for a hoped-for slot in Special Forces and is working on a baccalaureate degree in linguistics.
Of the competition, he remarked that all participants were actually Soldiers of the year. "They're an amazing group of guys."
Odierno then recognized Manella, who has served two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan.
After being exposed to multiple improvised explosive device explosions, Manella was diagnosed with traumatic brain injury, known as TBI, Odierno said, adding that at first he declined to seek treatment because he didn't want to abandon his Soldiers in the field. But he eventually realized the importance of seeking help and displayed courage in coming forward.
Manella decided that the Best Warrior competition would help his rehabilitation, Odierno said. But, "his medical limitations left him only 10 to 15 minutes a day to study. It took him about 18 months to prepare for the competition as a result."
With all of the hard work he put into the competition and despite his injury, Manella "is representative of the resiliency we have in our Army; the physical and mental toughness to overcome adversity, to set goals and strive to achieve them," Odierno concluded.
"My message to Soldiers is to never give up," Manella said after the ceremony.
Another message Manella hopes to convey to other Soldiers with similar injuries is to seek treatment.
His own source of inspiration, he said, is Medal of Honor recipient Staff Sgt. Ty Carter.
Carter "inspired me, saying that 'when the time comes, you need to stop and take a knee,'" he said, meaning that those suffering from TBI or post-traumatic stress need to stop and get care.
"Once you see these Soldiers take a knee and receive the treatment they need and then get back into the fight, you realize the sooner you get treatment, the sooner you can get back and start helping your Soldiers," he said, adding "I've been blessed with a good recovery so far."
As for his future, he plans to stay in the Army Reserve, which he said is as relevant to the Army as ever. He added that he wouldn't mind going on active duty again, but only if the Army builds an installation in Mountain View.
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