The 94th Army Air and Missile Defense Command held a Non-Commissioned Officer and Soldier of the year competition from May 12-17, 2019, between Schofield Barracks, Fort Shafter Flats and Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii.
The NCO/Soldier of the year competition was a combination of physically and mentally challenging events designed to propel competitors beyond their limits in a tactical environment.
"Win, lose or draw, the Soldiers standing before you today are the best of the best", said Sgt. Maj. Eric McCray, the command sergeant major of the 94th AAMDC.
Day zero of the competition began on May 12, 2019, where they conducted a reception in-process briefing to allow the Soldiers to fully understand the events and expectations for the upcoming week. They also conducted a layout of their tactical gear and equipment to make sure they had what was needed to complete each task for the upcoming week.
For the Soldiers competing, day zero was simply the quiet before the storm that was to come on day two.
The following day the competitors were fully immersed into the competition. They conducted an army physical fitness test, a written essay and a land navigation written test. They also used their previous Army experience to qualify with different weapons systems such as the M249 light machine gun and the M320 grenade launcher module.
The only thing that would allow the competitors to continue to perform through the week was their will to win.
"Being an example for my Soldiers and peers to follow, as well as making my unit look good", said Sgt. Matthew Thomas, a patriot launching station enhanced maintainer operator assigned to 1-1 Air Defense Artillery when asked about what drives him as a competitor.
While day one was now behind them, day two had much greater challenges in store.
On day two of the competition, the Soldiers began by navigating a treacherous obstacle course. Once completed, they began their communications lane, which included loading and operating a radio and their medical lane, which consisted of tactical combat casualty care. They ended their day by first completing daytime land navigation and night land navigation.
With the Soldiers beginning to tire and wear down, day three would hold one of the most challenging events during the weeklong competition.
The Soldiers began day three of the competition by completing a 12-mile ruck march and immediately following the ruck march they completed chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear training. They would end their day by completing a drill and ceremony competition.
As expected, the 12-mile ruck march was one of the toughest parts of the week long competition.
"I believe the 12-mile ruck march, since it test your physical and mental toughness to see if you will never quit", said Spc. Christopher Lozano, a utilities equipment repairer assigned to 94th AAMDC.
The next day of the competition would be one of the most challenging days, due to the fact that the competitors are already worn out, but with the competition coming to a close, they know they have to continue to drive forward.
On the fourth day of the competition, the Soldiers started their day with familiarization to air lift and drop off by helicopter event. They were able to get up close and personal with the island of Oahu while being transported in a Blackhawk helicopter the Soldiers were given the opportunity to see the beautiful island from above.
Once they returned, they went directly into weapons qualification were they shot and qualified with the M4 carbine rifle and M9 pistol. Once complete, they moved to the Leaders Reaction Course where the competitors were given a task to move objects and group of Soldier's through rigorous brain puzzling obstacles.
They also conducted media interviews to test their knowledge of how and how not to interact with news media. They completed their day by completing water survival training including swimming in uniform, treading water for five minutes. They finished off by jumping off the high dive with a rubber M4.
With only one day remaining in the competition, the Soldiers were able to chime in about how well they feel they and their competition had done thus far.
"I feel that I'm doing well", said Spc. Alexander Vandermark, a patriot missile system repairer, assigned Echo-3, Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, Task Force Talon at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. "Everyone is doing well, it's really solid, it's going to be very close at the end."
On the last day of the competition, the Soldiers completed a knowledge board in front of five senior non-commissioned officers. Once all competitors completed the knowledge board, its was revealed that Spc. Alexander Vandermark earned the title of 94th AAMDC Soldier of the year and Sgt. Ray Victor San Nicolas, an infantryman assigned to Task Force Guahan, 1-294th Infantry Regiment in Guam earned the title of the 94th AAMDC Non-Commissioned Officer of the year.
When asked whether Sgt. San Nicolas would compete to defend his title next year, he instead chose to possibly go a greater path.
"I do not; instead I plan on mentoring the next competitors in my unit who are planning on competing, San Nicolas stated.