By Staff Sgt. Lance PoundsAugust 14, 2018
FORT CARSON, Colo. -- There are many ways to achieve success in life. Some achieve it through hard work and determination, while others achieve it through raw talent. Regardless of how a person plans to achieve success in life, the U.S. Army has the tools and opportunities to help.
For one Colorado native, hard work, determination and raw talent propelled him through junior high and high school. After his 2009 graduation from Standley Lake High School in Westminster, Colorado, this young and ambitious student had plans of joining the military and traveling the world. However, his plans were placed on hold as he faced one of life's greatest challenges.
"Originally, I wanted to join the military out of high school. But, with my father battling cancer, I chose to remain close to my family," said Spc. Michael McClean, an all source intelligence analyst with Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 71st Ordnance Group (Explosive Ordnance Disposal).
McClean recently earned the title of Soldier of the Year during the 20th Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Explosives Command Best Warrior competition, held at Fort Dix, New Jersey -- a competition he described as a barrage of physically and mentally intense challenges.
Looking back on the competition, McClean said his performance stemmed from a "no quit" mentality his father instilled in him at an early age.
"If I got bested at an event, I kept pushing through," said McClean.
Like McClean, his father kept pushing through his fight with cancer until he passed away in 2014. The tragic loss took its toll on McClean.
McClean has an athletic build and is well within Army height and weight standards; but it was not always so. Throughout high school, McClean stayed in shape by playing various sports. After graduation and the loss of his father, staying in shape proved difficult.
During this time, he attended various educational institutions and held various jobs to satisfy is desire to serve his community.
"I wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself," he said.
McClean even gained a certification as a level one fire fighter for Colorado. His desire to help others is what made a career in the military all that more enticing.
"I needed a change in my life," said McClean. "I felt that enough time had gone by [since his father's passing], that I could revisit my desire to serve in the military."
McClean's academic talent again proved beneficial, as he qualified for more than 30 different jobs in the Army when most recruits typically only qualify for 8-12 occupational specialties. After heavy consideration, he chose a career in the intelligence field because it provided him with potential growth beyond the military.
"I asked several former military members I worked with at the time about each job offer and which would have a growing job market outside of the military. (All Source Intelligence Analyst) seemed like the best option," he said.
Since joining the Army in 2016, McClean married his long-time girlfriend, Taylor, who he said "has been incredibly supportive of my career choice."
To further improve his chances of success, both in and out of his chosen profession, McClean returned to college for a bachelor's degree in information security with a focus on cyber intelligence at American Military University.
McClean has also been hard at work to regain his high school physique, a personal goal that came in handy during the competition.
"I may not have been the fastest or the strongest Soldier at the competition, but I was consistent," he said.
"I have old-man strength. When I need it, it's there," he candidly added.
Warrant Officer David Williams, an all source intelligence technician with 71st Explosive Ordnance Disposal and one of McClean's mentors, helped with physical training and board preparation.
"We worked out every day on both aerobic and anaerobic exercises in order to further prepare him for the competition," said Williams.
Physical abilities aside, McClean said he excelled in areas of the competition that tested general Army knowledge.
"I've always been able to recall things. As a child I loved to build and take things a part to better understand how those things worked," said McClean.
That curiosity grew as McClean reached his teenage years. In high school, he tested into a gifted and talented program designed for students who excelled in academics, such as math and science.
McClean said his ability to understand how things work, and then recall that information, gave him a significant advantage going in to the competition.
Command Sgt. Maj. Johnny Strickland, 71st Explosive Ordnance Disposal's senior enlisted leader, aided in furthering McClean's chances of success by providing motivation, guidance and wisdom.
Strickland said he had numerous motivational conversations with McClean prior to, during, and after the competition.
"My main effort was to remove him from his primary responsibilities and give him a quiet place to study," said Strickland.
Strickland also provided guidance to McClean's first-line supervisors on which areas to focus additional training.
In addition, Strickland brought in a prior Department of the Army Soldier of the Year winner, Staff Sgt. Robert Miller, to share some words of wisdom.
McClean said that in reality, winning the competition had been a team effort.
"I am grateful for all those who took time to help me," said McClean. "The support has been insane!"
McClean plans to further hone his physical and mental abilities as he prepares for the upcoming U.S. Forces Command Best Warrior competition, to be held later this month.
"What sets (McClean) apart from other Soldiers, is his ability to think under pressure," said Williams. "He is by far our most outstanding Soldier and stood well above his peers even before the (20th CBRNE Best Warrior competition)."
Strickland said it is clear that McClean aspires to do well in all aspects of Soldiering and is spoken highly of by seniors, peers and subordinates alike.
"(McClean) wants to win the next competition at FORSCOM, and then win at (Department of the Army). You cannot teach that desire ... You have to want it, which he clearly does," said Strickland.