They are Soldiers, servant leaders -- and standout athletes and coaches.
Army Sports announced Lt. Col. William "Nate" Johnson as the 2014 Coach of the Year, Maj. Brian Hayes as the 2014 Male Athlete of the Year, and Capt. Jamie Pecha as the 2014 Female Athlete of the Year at the 2015 AUSA Global Force Symposium & Exposition in Huntsville last week. The trio was recognized by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno, Army Materiel Command commander Gen. Dennis Via and Training and Doctrine Command commander Gen. David Perkins during a ceremony April 1.
Army winners are selected based on their athletic excellence, sportsmanship, integrity, community service and professional character. The accomplishments of Johnson, Hayes and Pecha in uniform, and as members of their community are plentiful, evidence of the well-rounded Soldiers they have become, true to the Army values of loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage.
Lt. Col. William "Nate" Johnson, 2014 Coach of the Year
When he dons the uniform he may be Lt. Col. William "Nate" Johnson, but on the court he is simply "Coach."
It's a title he's embraced for more than 18 years, which makes being named the 2014 Army Coach of the Year that much sweeter.
"I never thought that anything like this could happen to me," said Johnson, chief of officer education for the Directorate of Training Development and Doctrine at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. "Coaching is my life dream. It's something I love doing. It made me feel like all my hard work after these 18 years has come full-circle."
As the head coach for the U.S. Armed Forces Women's Basketball team this past summer, Johnson guided the team to a 5-1 record during the Conseil International du Sport Militaire (CISM/International Military Sports Council) Championship, earning them a silver medal. Johnson had even better success with the 2014 All-Army Women's Basketball Team, which received a gold medal at the 2014 Armed Forces Championship, finishing with a 7-0 record throughout the competition. He will go on to serve as the head coach for the 2015 U.S. Armed Forces Women's Basketball team at the CISM competition in France.
"I love when you come up with a game plan and see it work -- to see people come together, and players accomplish things they didn't think they would be able to accomplish, because they trusted me and I trusted them that they could execute our game plan," Johnson said.
While his recent accolades have to do with women's basketball, Johnson also coaches men's.
"I'm a coach," Johnson said. "That's what I do. People ask me, 'How do you go back and forth?' It took me awhile. Ladies are different -- they don't like to disappoint you. They're emotional about it, so it's not as hard to get them energized as men. Men, you can tell them they've screwed up and they're OK with it, they just go out and do their business. A young lady, you have to tell them, 'You're killing me, but that's OK, we're going to forget about it, we're going to move on to the next thing.' You have to encourage them."
His coaching style and priorities weigh heavily on defense, end of game strategies, sticking to the basic fundamentals, communication, playing together and helping each other out, and limiting mistakes -- but when they happen, making sure players bounce back from them.
"It's OK to make a mistake and get beat," Johnson said. "But it gets worse if you stay beat. You've got to get back into the game and pick somebody else up."
Prior enlisted, Johnson has served in uniform for more than 28 years. His military accomplishments in 2014 include receiving an impact ARCOM from his commanding general as the chief of operations for the 94th Army Air & Missile Defense and spearheading the deployment of an Air Defense contingency battery to Guam. In his community, he volunteers with Meals on Wheels, serves food to the homeless, mentors teens at the Youth Development Center and serves as head coach for the Fort Sill Men's post basketball team.
"All-Army Sports gives Soldiers something else to look forward to," Johnson said. "All we hear about is war, Soldiers getting wounded, and just work, work, work. This gives the Soldier an outlet. A lot of the personnel that we get have either had aspirations to play at a higher level, or they played college ball, but still are missing something else. All-Army Sports is between college and the next level -- it gives them something to work toward. It gives you pride and bragging rights, because there's only a select few Soldiers who compete for All-Army."
Maj. Brian Hayes, 2014 Male Athlete of the Year
To understand the athletic endurance of Maj. Brian Hayes, one simply needs to look at the miles he has put on his racing shoes.
"I run every day. I literally don't take a day off," said Hayes, executive officer for the 305th Military Intelligence Battalion at Fort Huachuca, Arizona.
Clocking in an average of six to seven miles a day, last year Hayes ran 2,000 miles and competed in 23 races, 12 of which he finished in either first or second place overall. This year he is on track to run 2,500 miles, the equivalent of about 50 a week.
Prior enlisted, Hayes has the Army to thank for his running pastime, which he picked up when he enlisted in 1991, but didn't really become passionate about until years later.
"I was always pretty fast at my physical fitness test, but I never really ran races," Hayes said. "I wasn't into training then."
All that changed in 1999 when Hayes was commissioned and went to serve as a second lieutenant at Fort Hood, Texas. Upon the recommendation of a fellow Soldier, he tried out for the local Army Ten-Miler team. Competing on the Mixed Men's/Women's team that year, it was the team experience that hooked him.
"I really loved it," Hayes said. "That motivated me to get faster and faster. I was younger then, but now I'm training better and smarter and putting in more miles. I'm actually faster now at age 40 than I was 15 years ago at 25."
In uniform, he exceeded course standards in the Command & General Staff Officer Course, scored 300 on the Army Physical Fitness Test and served as the coach for the Fort Huachuca Commanding General's Army Ten-Miler Team, which finished third in the Men's Open Division, just to name a few of his accomplishments.
When he's not busy running or competing in distance running events, triathlons and duathlons, Hayes is giving back to his community. In 2014 he served as a volunteer race director for the Col. Johnson Elementary School 10K, 5K and 1-mile Family Runs, putting to use his expertise to benefit the school's Partners in Education committee to raise funds to improve students' educational experiences. He also served as the military liaison for the Sierra Vista West Rotary Club in support of their "How the West Was Run" 5K and 10K races.
"It's a balancing act," Hayes said. "The things that I think are important are family, my job, my fitness and professional development. Those four things you have to balance -- it ebbs and flows."
Hayes is humbled by the Army recognition.
"It's really cool to be recognized," he said. "Even being nominated, I could tell people, 'I was nominated for this.' There are so many great athletes in the Army. It's a total package -- it's not just the best athlete in the Army, it's a Soldier-athlete award."
Capt. Jamie Pecha, 2014 Female Athlete of the Year
Capt. Jamie Pecha was only 8 when she began playing volleyball at the YMCA, but even at a young age, she knew the sport was going to take her far.
Just a little girl at the time, when Pecha turned to her dad and said, "I'm going to get college paid for one way or another" she wasn't wrong.
Originally from Pueblo, Colorado, Pecha received the opportunity of a lifetime when she was recruited by West Point to not only play volleyball, but also run track and field. Combined with carrying on the tradition of her grandfathers' military service and the chance to play not just one, but two Division I sports, Pecha couldn't refuse.
"You grow a very unique bond with your teammates," Pecha, an Environmental Science and Engineering officer for Womack Army Medical Center at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, said of the West Point experience. "A lot of college teams get very close because you spend a lot of time together, but for us we were really each other's safety net. When other things were going crazy we either knew classmates who had gone through that same experience, upperclassmen who could help us, or peers who were going through the same thing."
It was at West Point that Pecha transformed from an athlete into a Soldier-athlete. While attending 30 days of basic training her junior year at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, Pecha suddenly got the feeling that she wasn't at West Point just to play sports -- she was there to become a Soldier.
"That switch flipped for me, that, 'Hey, I can do this. I really like being around Soldiers,'" Pecha said. "That's when the military side really clicked for me."
Commissioned in 2009, Pecha has spent her time in uniform not only serving her country, but her community as well, all the while pursuing her love of volleyball -- even when she was deployed to Afghanistan from December 2011 to October 2012. Her military accomplishments include not only graduating from Air Assault School, but having the second highest academic score for her class; and her commitment to her community is apparent not only through her service to her church, but also in her role coaching a Fort Bragg Youth Volleyball league team of 8 year olds.
"No one gets where they are by themselves," Pecha said. "I have those mentors who helped me get to where I am, and if I can impart that on someone else -- it's not necessarily pay it forward, but pay it back."
On the court, Pecha was a member of the All-Army Volleyball Team for the third time, serving as captain when the team took the A Division title at the USA Volleyball Nationals, where she was named MVP. The Army honor is just icing on the cake to an already accomplished season.
"I was shocked," Pecha said when she heard the news. "Our volleyball team had an amazing season last year and we had an amazing team. It's really nice and humbling to get this, but really it's an acknowledgment of the volleyball team."
For more information about All-Army Sports, visit www.allarmysports.armymwr.com.