By Spc. William Hatton, 7th MPADAugust 20, 2008
Seventeen of Forces Command's brightest and best Soldiers from units around the country came to Fort Hood to compete for FORSCOM's Soldier of the Year and Noncommissioned Officer of the Year July 27-31.
Eight Soldiers competed for the Soldier of the Year and nine NCOs competed for the NCO of the Year during this year's weeklong competition. In the end, two Soldiers, Fort Hood 2008 Soldier or the Year and 1st Cavalry Division Soldier Spc. Alexander Elkassamani, and Fort Huachuca's Sgt. Lisa Morales took home the titles.
During the awards banquet held Thursday at Killeen's Plaza Hotel, competitors were honored and awaited the news of who would be the overall winner of the Soldier and NCO of the Year Competition.
Before announcing the Soldiers who had nabbed the top titles, U.S. Forces Command's top enlisted leader Command Sgt. Maj. Dennis Carey, said as far as he was concerned all of the competitors were winners, but only two could advance to the Armywide competition.
Elkassamani, Company B, 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cav. Div., was announced as Soldier of the Year and Sgt. Lisa Morales, a Soldier with 40th Signal Battalion, 11th Signal Brigade, Fort Huachuca, Ariz., was announced as Noncommissioned Officer of the Year.
"The competition was pretty difficult at times, but overall I really enjoyed it," Elkassamani said. "One of the best parts of it all was simply training up for it. I learned so much while I prepared. I owe a lot to the great sponsors I had during the competition."
Both winners dedicated themselves to winning the competition long before they got to this point.
The down-to-earth NCO said she was excited to have won, but also very humbled to be part of such a big event and to have competed day-in and day-out with so many great competitors.
One person motivating Morales through each day of fierce competition was her brother Pfc. Stephen Chaires, one of her four siblings and a 4th Infantry Division Soldier who's in Iraq.
"He's been my inspiration throughout this whole thing," said the 23-year-old representing the 40th Signal Battalion, who added she couldn't wait to break the news to him.
"Him being in Iraq, doing all the infantry tasks that I've just been training to do. He's been my hero."
Even though her brother couldn't make it, her sponsor Sgt. 1st Class Louis Sueing was there throughout the week.
"The main focus of this was to have fun because if you have fun everything else seems to flow right behind it," Sueing said about the whole experience, which he later described as, "gratifying."
When teaching a new Soldier something, the most rewarding feeling comes when you know they get it, Sueing with the 9th Signal Command said.
Watching his junior NCO claim the title was hard for the senior leader to put into words, but if he had to, he said, in one word it would be pride.
The first day of the competition started off with a board of review, during which Soldiers sat in front of a panel of sergeants major, including the president of the board and Carey.
"It was great being able to see a vast amount of knowledge presented during the board," Carey said. "We had such a great spectrum of experience and knowledge, from the sergeant first class down to private first class that competed."
The board consisted of a number of questions ranging from proper ways to clear a rifle, to the steps in evaluating a casualty, to a Soldier's responsibility when engaging the media.
After a strenuous day of questioning and exploring the Soldiers' and NCOs' minds, it was time to push the limits of their bodies.
The next day started early with a physical fitness test. The physical fitness test consisted of a push-up competition, a sit-up competition, and a two-mile run competition, all designed to examine the strength, conditioning, and abilities of each Soldier competing.
After completing the physical fitness test, the Soldiers and NCOs rushed off for a land navigation course, during which competitors were given a map and a GPS device and told to navigate to a sequence of locations. The course, which covered more than four miles across the main body of Fort Hood, was designed to represent navigating t--hrough urban environments.
Later in the day, the Soldiers carried out several mini-exercises established to show their knowledge of basic skills needed on the battle field.
As the day continued, Texas heat played a major role on the competitors and their abilities to succeed.
"One of the reasons the competition is so difficult is because of the overwhelming heat," Carey said.
"It's one of the challenges of having a competition at the 'Great Place' in July."
The following morning, the Soldiers were given written exams on basic military knowledge.
Once the exams were completed, Soldiers headed to the range.
With their M-4 rifles, the Soldiers fired at targets ranging from 50-300 meters.
They had 40 targets and 40 rounds to complete their mission.
With the last day upon them, the competitors only had the two events left -- a uniform inspection exercise and weapons assembly time trial.
The Soldier of the Year said he couldn't have done so well without the endless dedication of his wife, Sarah, and the constant support of his leadership.
"I got my technical proficiency from my wife and the tactical proficiency from my NCOs," the young trooper said.
Morales and Elkassamani both said they stand ready to tackle the Department of the Army level competition Sept. 28 at Fort Lee, Va.
(Spc. Jeffery Ledesma, 7th MPAD contributed to this story.)