The deep green colors of the evergreen forest framed the running figure headed towards the end point of the land navigation course. Located just beyond the fence line of Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s (JBLM) North Fort, this iconic training area once hosted thousands of ROTC cadets each summer as they attended Advanced Camp.
As he approached, Sgt. Adam Petralli handed over his scorecard and stripped off his helmet and body armor. He was one of seven soldiers that participated in the Military Intelligence Readiness Command’s (MIRC) 2023 Soldier of the Year and Noncommissioned Officer of the Year competition.
Petralli began to smile as he recounted his experience navigating from point to point using terrain association, eschewing a technique known as dead reckoning – using magnetic bearings of a compass to move around an area. As he gulped down mouthfuls of an orange-colored beverage, it was clear that he enjoyed the moment and was filled with a sense of accomplishment.
Learning and competing using these Soldier skills prepares troops for future training, and ultimately, the rigors of conflict.
Petralli, representing the 336th Expeditionary Military Intelligence Brigade, emphasized this notion. “We fight wars, and we are expected to win wars. Teaching the younger Soldiers a winning mindset begins at these competitions. Winning or losing can have real consequences.” Petralli would place runner up in the noncommissioned officer standings.
“I didn’t know much about the competition coming into this. It’s been a great experience to familiarize with those basic soldier tasks,” said Spc. Christian Jaen Morales who was recognized as the command’s 2023 Soldier of the year. “This competition reinforced the skills I’d learned in basic training.”
Master Sgt. Donald Love worked hard behind the scenes to coordinate and orchestrate the competition. His unit, the 259th Expeditionary Military Intelligence Brigade located on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, assisted the MIRC staff to run the events.
Love observed on several occasions, leaders took time out to train and teach in addition to testing.
“If we ever got to the point where the competitors can’t execute and they didn’t know what they were doing, we backed up a bit and taught.”
The competition spanned seven days. It consisted of highly physical events like a 12-mile ruck march, the Army Combat Fitness Test (ACFT), and water survival training. Soldiers then faced skills-based events including weapons qualification, day and night land navigation, patrolling lanes, and medical tasks. Competitors also tested their knowledge by completing a written exam and answering questions in front of a board presided over by MIRC’s senior enlisted leader, Command Sgt. Maj. Brian Bertazon.
Sgt. Noah Quichocho, the 2023 Military Intelligence Readiness Command noncommissioned officer of the year, emphasized the importance of getting back to the basics. Despite his status as a graduate of the Army’s Ranger School and deployment with a ranger battalion, he still relished the experience. “It’s honestly a great opportunity. Relearning everything, it really puts you to the test in a non-combat environment. It’s competitions like these that really show how much you know.” Quichocho represents the 259th Expeditionary Military Intelligence Brigade.
While the soldier and noncommissioned officer of the year will go on to compete at higher levels this year, soldiers can already begin preparing for next year’s competitions.
“It’s been very challenging, and it’s also been really fun,” said Pfc. Nathan Ramirez of the National Intelligence Support Group, the most junior soldier that participated. “I highly recommend attending. You’re bound to learn something new.”