By Gregory RippsJanuary 29, 2014
Working hard, never settling and always reaching for a higher level are recurring themes for Cpl. Hilary Schultz, the U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command's 2013 Soldier of the Year.
When she was a girl, she had a school assignment to read the novel "Moby Dick," write a report and create a board game based on the story. After completing the assignment, her mother suggested she create a box for the game as well, so she did.
"My mother always pushed me to be creative and to never take the easy way," Schultz said. "She always encouraged me to go the extra mile."
Her quiet, unassuming manner belies the burning drive within this young Soldier, which helps to explain how Schultz has accomplished so much in just three years of service.
Schultz, a voice language analyst with the 717th Military Intelligence Battalion, 470th MI Brigade, joined the Army after graduating with honors from the University of Maryland at College Park in 2008.
"I tried a job right out of college, but I didn't feel like I was doing what I was supposed to be doing," she said. "I knew I wanted to serve in the military."
At first, her recruiter suggested Army Reserve Officer Candidate School, but Schultz preferred to go the enlisted route.
"My grandfather, my uncle, my godfather and lots of cousins served. My uncle started out as an enlisted Soldier and advised me to do the same," she said. "I wanted that experience."
A week after "swearing in," she took the Defense Language Aptitude Battery to test her proficiency in a foreign language. Because Schultz grew up speaking Hebrew -- and even attended a semester of college at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, in Israel, through an overseas student program -- she had little trouble with the test.
"I lived in the dorm and attended classes both in English and Hebrew," Schultz said. "There were also numerous field trips in which I learned more about the archaeology and culture of Israel."
Once she joined the U.S. Army, Schultz immediately appreciated being in an environment where she felt she could learn so much from those around her. Participating in competitions, like the Soldier of the Year board, was a natural extension of her desire to learn more.
In preparation for a competition, the first thing Schultz does is find out what advantages other competitors might have so she can level the playing field.
For example, competition for Soldier of the Quarter at brigade level included Preventive Maintenance Checks and Services on a Humvee -- which could have been an issue, considering her battalion doesn't operate the vehicle.
"I knew I needed to be prepared, so I went to the brigade motor pool to practice," Schultz said. "I also asked to practice taking apart and putting together weapons. I knew the tasks from the book, but my battalion doesn't maintain all of the weapons."
By continually going the extra mile, Schultz excelled at the brigade and INSCOM Soldier of the Year competitions.
"She's aggressive, motivated and standards based," said 1st Sgt. Aaron Parker, Schultz's first sergeant. "She demands excellence from herself and looks to her leadership for motivation and inspiration. She is eager to learn, quick to ask questions and conscientious about her duties. She is the future of Army leadership."
Schultz credited key personnel in her battalion with helping her understand regulations, which formed a significant part of the competition, particularly at the INSCOM level.
"To have a thorough understanding of regulations, I must know what they mean and how to apply them," she said. "You can't effectively lead a unit unless you know how they work. I demanded a lot from our senior leaders, especially the first sergeants and platoon sergeants. I had a lot of questions along the way."
In addition to competing for Soldier of the Year honors, Schultz also competed for Linguist of the Year and won at the brigade level. While she wasn't named the command's top language professional, she did go into the competition with impressive Defense Language Proficiency Test scores of 2/2+ in Hebrew and 2+/2 in Portuguese -- even though she never received formal training in the latter language.
Schultz completed the Defense Language Institute's year-long course in basic Spanish at the Presidio of Monterey, Calif., and felt the two languages were similar enough.
"I taught myself the grammar, then worked on vocabulary and finally listened to stories in Portuguese," she recalled. "A month later, I took the test."
While Schultz is thankful for the attention and accolades her recent accomplishments have garnered, she insists that's not why Soldiers should push themselves to participate in these types of competition.
"At the end of the day, I want to know that I did my best and that I gave it my all," she said, adding that her real focus is on being a noncommissioned officer and taking care of Soldiers. "You have to work harder, push to a level higher, to make a difference."