By Kari Hawkins, AMCJuly 21, 2017
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- The Army Materiel Command named its Soldier and Non-commissioned Officer of the Year at an awards luncheon at The Summit on Redstone Arsenal July 21.
Pfc. Robert Nelson and Staff Sgt. Jared Casey were among seven participants vying for the top honors during AMC's Best Warrior Competition at Camp Atterbury, Indiana, July 16-18.
Nelson, a native of Decatur, Texas, who was raised in Chugiak, Alaska, is a petroleum supply specialist assigned to the Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command's 688th Rapid Port Opening Element at Fort Eustis, Virginia.
Casey, a native of Hennepin, Oklahoma, is contract specialist assigned to the Army Contracting Command's 409th Contracting Support Brigade in Sembach Kaserne, Germany.
The two will go on to compete at the Army-level Best Warrior Competition in October.
"This is a great honor for me to actually make it this far," Nelson said. "All the training is like becoming an NCO at a lower rank level."
The Best Warrior Competition is important for the AMC Soldier corps because it demonstrates that Soldiers are Soldiers first and sustainers second, said AMC commander Gen. Gus Perna at the awards luncheon.
"It's not about what we do technically," he said. "This is about being a Soldier first. Being a Soldier is difficult; it's hard. But being a Soldier sustainer is even harder."
AMC's contest challenged its participants on all levels.
"The Soldiers that competed are a true reflection of the Soldiers in the greatest Army," said AMC Command Sgt. Maj. Rodger Mansker. "We challenged these Soldiers to give us their best both physically and mentally. The caliber of our Soldiers make the nation proud every day. I commend all of them for their best efforts and congratulate our winners as they move forward for the Army's Best Warrior Competition."
AMC's competition included an evening physical fitness test, a pre-dawn land navigation course, a 12-mile ruck, multiple weapons tests, simulated combat scenarios and several "mystery events" designed to test the Soldiers' ability to think and react quickly in battle-stressed situations.
Although only two representatives go forward, each competitor in the AMC-level competition expressed that the activities brought out the best in them.
"My goal, my dream, was to accomplish this," said Sgt. Luis Cruzsanchez, who as a forklift operator assigned to the 688th Rapid Port Opening Element at Fort Eustis, Virginia, represented the Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command. "Because of this competition, you automatically become among the top 10 percent of Soldiers. With every competition, you learn something new. You bring it back home to your unit and you apply it. It's amazing."
Cruzsanchez was the first runner up for NCO of the Year. Spc. Luther Witherspoon Jr., a human resources specialist assigned to Army Contracting Command at Rock Island Arsenal, Illinois, was first runner up for Soldier of the Year.
Other participants in the competition were:
* Staff Sgt. Qujuan Baptiste, representing the Army Sustainment Command, and assigned to ASC's Distribution Management Center at Rock Island, Illinois;
* Sgt. Eduardo Sanchez, representing the Research, Development and Engineering Command, and assigned as a parachute rigger to the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center in Natick, Massachusetts; and
* Sgt. 1st Class Joaquin Spikes, representing the Security Assistance Command, as a signal support systems specialist with the Security Assistance Training Management Organization.
Many of the Soldiers said the 12-mile ruck march over sandy, rocky and hilly terrain was the most challenging part of the competition. They endured several hardships -- including blisters, sore back muscles and weariness from a lack of sleep -- to overcome the competition's challenges.
Even so, Nelson, the only private first class in the competition, said he is proud to have been the lowest ranking Soldier in this year's event.
"This can be very important to me as it follows me in my career. It shows that I took the initiative at a younger rank," he said. "And it shows my family -- my dad who was in the Army for 20 years, my mom and grandpas who served, and my brother who served for 20 years -- that they've raised someone who holds up the same expectations they did."
That sense of pride is also evident in more seasoned competitors such as Spikes, whose 12 years of service includes two deployments to Afghanistan.
"This competition pushed me to the limit mentally, physically, emotionally," he said. "As I get older, I see that I am still able to compete with the young guys and train with them. I knew I could give it 120 percent and meet the challenge."
Each Soldier knew from the beginning that Best Warrior would be a competition of endurance, persistence and determination -- all important to being a success as a career Soldier. Both Nelson and Casey will now focus on preparations for the Army-wide competition.
"My mentor -- Sgt. Maj. Rocky Carr -- is probably already starting to develop a training plan for me," Casey said. "I've got to work on my speed, especially in the ruck march."
Nelson's mentoring team -- including Sgt. Travis Swanson, Sgt. 1st Class Jeremy Adams and 1st Sgt. Lamar Smith -- will be helping him in his preparations.
"They want the best possible future for me. They are always making sure I stay on top of my game," he said.
Both believe the results of the AMC competition will have a positive long-term effect on their careers.
"As a contracting specialist, my military occupational specialty is very small, but we all do the same job," Casey said. "Operationally, this competition puts me ahead of my peers because I'm leading the way, and fulfilling the AMC command sergeant major's and Gen. Perna's intent."