It’s a story you may have heard a time or two. A man joins the Army for college money. Then he falls in love with the Army. And stays for the love it.
It’s not a new tale, it’s just being told again by a Soldier who could be officially named by Army senior leaders as the best noncommissioned officer in its ranks.
Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Zamudio, a combat arms advisor with the U.S. Army Security Assistance Command, will represent USASAC in the Army Materiel Command-level Best Warrior competition at Fort Benning, Georgia, Aug. 14-17, 2022. Winners of the major command-level competitions will go on to compete at the Department of the Army level for the title of NCO or Soldier of the Year in the fall.
The 5’7”, 173-pound Zamudio will face stiff competition as he and other top-tier Soldiers across the Army test their proficiency in a variety of warrior tasks and drills.
But he’s not stressing it. After all, this is what he loves to do.
“My first deployment to Iraq in 2006 set the tone for me,” said Zamudio, who is currently assigned to USASAC's Security Assistance Training Management Organization.
The plan was to complete his initial four year contract, then get out and attend college.
“But after deploying to Iraq as an infantryman, and really getting to do what I was trained to do, that sealed the deal,” he said.
He had already impressed his superiors with his leadership skills, athleticism and attitude. “I was already a team leader and they were talking about sending me to school to become a jump master.”
After his tour in Iraq, he said there was still a remnant of the plan to get out of the Army and start college, but truthfully, he said his military career was as good as set in stone.
“There were a lot of positive influences by some of my senior leaders at that time and different doorways were opening up for me. And I became more and more enthralled with the idea of becoming a jumpmaster,” said Zamudio. “Leading Soldiers, jumping out of airplanes and getting paid to do it? Who could say no to that!”
The Army’s unique brand of military discipline was also a factor.
By the time Zamudio joined the Army at age 23, he had worked several odd jobs and was craving structure. He was 24 by the time he arrived at his first unit, more mature than many of his battle buddies, and ready to tackle life’s challenges. He had unknowingly been preparing for this career his whole life.
Born in Jacksonville, Florida, Zamudio and his sister moved frequently throughout the Southeastern United States with his mother’s career opportunities.
He said while they were never rooted too long in one place, the one thing that remained constant was household order. His mother had served in the Navy years before, and never abandoned the military discipline that ultimately helped her raise two children on her own.
“I always say I had a shoe in (the military) because that kind of structured purpose was behind how I was raised. I didn’t understand it as a child, but I can definitely see how she applied what she learned from her time in service to raise us, setting schedules, keeping things on track,” said Zamudio. “So coming from my background, by the time I had joined, structured processes were easy for me. I had no problem accomplishing tasks, step-by-step, dress right-dress.
Zamudio remains close with his mother and stepfather, but it was his grandfather who influenced his decision to join. He said his grandfather, also a military veteran, was adamant about Zamudio paving his own way in the world, and being able to attend college without depending on anyone.
Zamudio visited a recruiting station and after being drawn to a recruiter’s cubicle, plastered in 82nd Airborne memorabilia, the rest is history. Since that fateful day, Zamudio has spent 11 of his 16 years in the elite 82nd Airborne Division, most recently as a company first sergeant.
He said joining the Army was one of the best decisions he ever made in his life and he continues to enjoy this career path. “I’m not sure what I would’ve done if I had not joined the Army, but I like to think that no matter what I had chosen to do, success would have followed.”
It’s that attitude that may earn him the top spot in the upcoming competition. Either way, success will follow, he said.
“My wife Annie and our children have supported me personally and professionally all along the way. That has helped me tremendously to be the best man and best Soldier I could be,” said Zamudio. “I don’t have plans to retire anytime soon, but whatever I end up doing in the future, I feel like it’s going to turn out great. I’ve lived the life I love.”