The sky was clear, and the sun was shining in El Paso, Texas, on April 14, 2023, creating an atmosphere of excitement as spectators gathered at the Southwest University Park stadium to watch the game’s opening pitch.
The crowd erupted in cheers as Spc. Lucas Stray, a behavioral health specialist and Soldier of the Year at William Beaumont Army Medical Center, stepped onto the pitcher’s mound and threw the game’s first pitch. The GECU hometown hero, Stray was honored at a recent baseball game between the El Paso Chihuahuas and the New Mexico Albuquerque Isotopes. He was presented with a plaque during the game.
Stray, a Waukesha, WI, native, enlisted in the U.S. Army on October 5, 2020. He completed Basic combat training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and advanced individual training at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. In January of 2023, Stray was awarded the title of Soldier of the Year during the Noncommissioned Officer and Soldier of the Year Competition, which WBAMC Troop Command at Fort Bliss, Texas, hosted.
“Competing in the Soldier of the Year competition was challenging,” said Stray. “The competition was held shortly after Christmas block leave, where I had taken two weeks to spend the holiday season with family and friends in Wisconsin. I wouldn’t say I felt unprepared, but I was skeptical of how I would perform physically,” he said.
The competition, which spanned one week, was conducted, and evaluated by non-commissioned officers from the hospital. It encompassed a range of warrior tasks and battle drills, including daytime and nighttime land navigation, a physical fitness assessment, a rucksack march, stress shooting, and an urban obstacle course. The participants underwent a comprehensive evaluation process, including a written examination, an essay, and an oral board.
Stray detailed his experience with the unknown ruck march and his handling of a family crisis while attempting to participate in the competition.
“Once I entered the competition, my inner competitor assumed control. I gave each event my all while enjoying myself. During our unknown distance rucking event, I learned that my grandmother was in the hospital with only hours to live. During my ruck march, which was an emotional moment, I placed my final phone call to her,” said Stray.
Stray conveyed his appreciation to both his leadership and fellow competitors.
“I would like to express my gratitude to the leadership for their assistance in submitting and approving my leave request, which enabled me to attend the funeral and return home. I would like to express my gratitude to the Non-Commissioned Officer of the year, Sgt. Haley Wierzbicki, for her unwavering support and encouragement during the ruck event. Her presence and assistance were instrumental in keeping me motivated throughout the duration of the march,” he said.
Following the competition and anticipating his departure for leave, Stray was informed via telephone that he had unofficially been selected as the recipient of the Soldier of the Year award.
“This was the one and only Soldier of the year board I competed in. I started at the lowest level of boards, the Soldier of the Month board, and won that in my first. I then proceeded to compete in three Soldiers of the quarter boards until I finally won the third one. Next step for me is continuing to see how I can be the best Soldier and behavioral health specialist for the Army wherever that may be,” said Stray.
Currently, Stray is assigned to WBAMC’s Intensive Outpatient Clinic. He intends to pursue a career in behavioral health with the 5th Special Forces Group, headquartered at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.