Lub dub....lub dub.....lub dub...Sitting stoically in the chair, she could hear her own heart beating in her ears and feel heat radiating from her cheeks. The sweat from where she rested her straight and rigid palms was beginning to show on the knees of her uniform slacks. Her skin was beginning to stick to the synthetic material. The conclusion of the competition was just on the horizon. This was the final event. She was almost done. Letting out a cleansing breath, she began.
"Good Morning, sergeant major and fellow members of the board, I am Spc. Zuleima Garcia."
U.S. Army Spc. Zuleima Garcia, a native of Oakdale, Calif. and an air defense enhanced early warning system operator, with Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 1st Battalion, 1st Air Defense Artillery Regiment, 94th Army Air and Missile Defense Command, was awarded the title 94th AAMDC's Soldier of the Year 2016, during a ceremony, April 28, 2016, at Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam, Hawaii.
The 94th AAMDC Noncommissioned Officer and Soldier of the Year Competition is an event in which Soldiers and junior NCOs of the 94th AAMDC compete to demonstrate their military proficiencies that creates an example of excellence and sets them above their peers.
"I was eager to participate in this competition because I wanted to set an example for my subordinates," explained Garcia. "I wanted to show others that just because I am ADA doesn't mean that I can't do everything that Soldiers in the rest of the Army are doing."
Stationed in Okinawa, Garcia had to travel to Hawaii and began the competition in a position that many may have considered a disadvantage.
"We knew that there would be the additional element of fatigue from travel that might affect her performance in the competition that is why preparation was so important," said Sgt. Richard Wyce, Garcia's sponsor during the competition and a utilities equipment repair noncommissioned officer with 1-1 ADA.
With no specifics on what events the competition would incorporate, Garcia began diligently preparing.
"We created a schedule where we covered different military subjects daily," said Wyce. "We created our own [physical training] schedule that would enhance her physical strength and endurance, keeping her PT score at 300, and that would help improve her speed and endurance during the ruck march. In the mornings following PT, we would conduct study sessions and in the afternoons we would practice the physical, hands-on portion of each event like warrior task and battle drills or things of that nature."
The four-day competition officially included individual competition graded elements such as an Army physical fitness test, drill and ceremony, night/day land navigation, M4 rifle qualification, weapons familiarization, a written test, a narrative essay, and a traditional question-and-answer board appearance.
Even with preparation, Garcia found herself pushing through the competition and being completely exhausted.
"My husband is also a Soldier and competed last year for U.S. Army Japan," said Garcia. "He warned me that this was going to be rough. It was exhausting and all kinds of thoughts would go through my head. I will have to go back home and tell him that he was right."
"I was contemplating my career on the 12-mile ruck march," chuckles Garcia. "He was right. It wasn't a walk-in-the-park, it was rough. It was challenging."
Though Garcia's spouse had competed in a similar competition in Japan last year, this event had been planned with specific modifications to ensure the bodies and minds of the competitors would be taxed.
"This year we raised the intensity to purposefully meet Command Sgt. Maj. [Bryant] Lambert's overall intent for the competition," said Master Sgt. Benjamin Kahalehoe, the operations passive defense cell noncommissioned officer-in-charge. "We compounded the events of the competition within a shorter period of time which created a more stressful week, challenging the competitors both mentally and physically."
Garcia truly demonstrated the accuracy of the statement: preparation is the key to success.
"I feel really proud of myself," shares Garcia. "It definitely makes me feel like all the hard work I have done was totally worth it."
"Succeeding is really about using all the tools provided to you to the best of your ability and working hard."
U.S. Army Sgt. Stanley Fields, a native of Atlanta, Georgia and an intelligence analyst with HHB, 94th AAMDC, was also rewarded for his example of excellence during the ceremony. He was awarded the title of 94th AAMDC's Noncommissioned Officer of the Year 2016. Fields and Garcia will both represent the 94th AAMDC during the weeklong U. S. Army Pacific Best Warrior Challenge later this summer.