FORT JACKSON, SC -- Fort Jackson Staff Sgt. Melissa Solomon recently won the title of Army Reserve Drill Sergeant of Year following a weeklong series of physically and mentally challenging tests.

Solomon, who is a drill sergeant leader at the 108th Training Division's Reserve Drill Sergeant School, said she was completely surprised when it was announced she had won the Reserve competition.

"It was a very trying week," she said. "I didn't think I had won. Everyone there was a great competitor."

Eight drill sergeants - five active duty and three Reserve drill sergeants representing each Basic Combat Training installation - went head-to-head June 12-19 at Fort Eustis and Fort Monroe, Va. to determine the Army's top active duty and Reserve drill sergeant.
Competitors were tested on marksmanship on various weapon systems, physical fitness, battle drills and warrior tasks, land navigation, urban orienteering and their ability to counsel new Soldiers.

"You never knew what you were being evaluated on," Solomon said. "The toughest part was not knowing what would happen next. Everything was kept secret from us."

One night during the competition, drill sergeants were wakened at 3 a.m. and sent on a 30-mile road march before taking a physical training test.

"It was tough taking a PT test with blisters and a worn-out back from marching 30 miles with a full ruck sack," she said. "You have to push yourself to the limit."
Competitors also took seven written exams, wrote four essays and stood before a review board.

Solomon, who was presented with the Meritorious Service Medal, will receive the Ralph Haines Jr. Award at the Pentagon at a later date. Haines was the commander of the Continental Army, which is the predecessor of TRADOC.

In addition to awards, numerous gifts and gift certificates, the Fort Jackson-based drill sergeant will spend a year at TRADOC serving as a liaison between drill sergeants and Initial Entry Training commanders.

Solomon, of Tallahassee, Fla., will travel to all IET installations to observe training and make sure it is being conducted to standard. She said she was looking forward to traveling and seeing how all the other IET installations function.

"I will have the influence to add or take away battle drills. Everything I complained about on the trail I can now have an influence on," Solomon said. "When I move up to TRADOC, I will see the big picture of what the Army is trying to accomplish."
Command Sgt. Maj. Travis Williams, commandant of the 108th Training Division, said he wasn't surprised Solomon won the competition.

"She always gives 100 percent," Williams said. "When you think of Army Values, she represents every one of them. We knew she put in a lot of hard work, and we're excited about how well she did. We expected her to represent us well, and she did."

Solomon said the most enjoyable part of the competition was talking and interacting with the Army's best of the best.

"Just to see and talk about how they trained Soldiers was a very rewarding experience," she said.

Before returning to Fort Jackson last week, Solomon received a four-day pass to visit her mother who, she said, is a fan.

"My mom is my biggest supporter," she said. "I am not sure she knew what I had to endure. But once she ... read about it she had a better understanding of what I had to go through."

Solomon, who was born in Milwaukee, Wis., completed her Basic Combat Training at Fort Jackson in 2002 and her Advanced Individual Training at Fort Gordon, Ga., which included health care specialist and licensed practical nurse training.

"My ultimate goal is to finish my master's and teach nursing," she said. "I have always loved teaching and training people."