By Jorge GomezOctober 5, 2007
FORT LEE, Va. (Army News Service, Oct. 5, 2007) - Twenty-six warriors are competing in the best Soldier and Noncommissioned Officer of the Year competitions this week. Three were born in other countries.
Cpl. Mihai Mocanu, U.S. Army Europe's Soldier of the Year, was inspired to join the U.S. Army when a Romanian master sergeant told him the United States had the most professional Army in the world.
Sgt. Sadat Allhassan, Third Army's Noncommissioned Officer of the Year, admired U.S. Soldiers as a child when he saw them provide humanitarian relief. Growing up in Ghana, Sgt. Allhassan was determined to become a U.S. Soldier.
Spc. Heyz Seeker, U.S. Army Special Operations Command's Soldier of the Year, was two when his father, a Filipino immigrant, died. He grew up hearing stories of how both his father and stepfather had fought in World War II.
Although the three Soldiers have diverse cultural backgrounds, they are bound together by their patriotism, their love of the Army and their drive to be the best at the competition.
Love of Military
Cpl. Mocanu served in the Romanian army for five years. He found his way to the United States by applying for a sports visa as a member of the national Romanian martial arts team, and joined the U.S. Army when he was issued a green card. He enlisted as an infantryman on his 33rd birthday and left for training at Fort Benning, Ga.
"Many people said I was crazy to join the Army in a time of war and especially to join the infantry," Cpl. Mocanu said. "But I don't think we can let the terrorists do what they want."
Cpl. Mocanu was an NCO when he left the Romanian army. When he went to Fort Benning, he was as a private, but he said it was a dream come true to become a U.S. Soldier. For him, the toughest part about Basic Combat Training was the language. But it was a challenge he was willing to face head on.
"It's difficult, but I'm not ashamed to ask, 'What's that mean' How's this thing work'' That's the easy way to learn. Some of the new Soldiers, they are afraid to ask. Right now, I'm the best Soldier from U.S. Army Europe, right' If I have something, that I don't know, I go ask," Cpl. Mocanu said.
He became a U.S. citizen a little over a month ago, on Sept. 4. He said he wished he could celebrate but couldn't because he was training at the time. Now he looks forward to being part of 'history in the making' with current operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"I want to be part of the big picture. When years pass and I look back, I'll remember that I was not a citizen of the United States, but I was in the Army serving in Iraq. Our company had lost eight guys. Before I ask something of the United States, I want to give something to my country."
A Soldier First
Sgt. Allhassan grew up speaking five Ghanian languages, including Swahili, Ewe, Ga, Twi and Fanti. He also speaks English, Arabic, French and little Portuguese.
"In a multi-language community, you end up intermingling with a lot of people who speak those languages," he said. "You get exposed to those languages at a young age."
He left Africa for America when he was 20. He started college in New York and eventually joined the Army Reserve.
"I wanted to serve this country because this country has given me a lot. Secondly, to have a sense of purpose and direction, and thirdly to continue with my college education," he said.
Sgt. Allhassan said that America is a unique country because it has every tribe and ethnicity, and as a result, he had no problem settling in this country.
His only regret is having traces of an accent.
"But slowly and surely I have been able to adapt to the American way of talking and that's a great thing," he said.
Sgt. Allhassan has enjoyed the opportunity to meet other people, especially those of other faiths during the three and a half years he's served in the Army.
Sgt. Allhassan, who became a U.S. citizen in July 2006, is Muslim, but most people come to know him long before they learn about his Islamic faith. One of the things he appreciates about the United States is that it's a richly diverse country and people are able to respect each other.
"People understand you better when you talk about your religion. Just like any other faith in the military, we all come to give our nation our best," he said.
During the competition, Sgt. Allhassan has had to suspend his religious obligation to fast for the month of Ramadan.
"Ramadan is a month of holiness. You fast and keep praying to God for forgiveness, and for perseverance ahead," he said. The special circumstances of the competition allow him to break the fast and make up for those lost days afterward. Now, his focus is on winning the competition.
Spc. Seeker is also focusing on being the best Soldier for 2007, another accomplishment to make his fathers proud.
When he joined the Army in 1991, Spc. Seeker was following in the footsteps of his two fathers who were World War II veterans.
In his first enlistment, Spc. Seeker became a forward observer artilleryman and when he transferred to the National Guard in 1995, he was an armored crewman.
When he enlisted again in 2004, he signed up as an infantryman. During his second round of basic training, he raised his hand to apply for the Ranger Indoctrination Program.
Now as an airborne Ranger, Spc. Seeker is looking to be the best in the Army through this competition.
Throughout his military career, Spc. Seeker has kept an interest in the culinary arts.
For about six years between his Army enlistments, Spc. Seeker was a sushi chef apprentice in San Diego. Oddly, he never considered becoming a food service specialist for the Army.
"I wanted to roll around in a tank or become a Ranger," he said.
He's putting off his goal of opening up a sushi bar until he retires from the Army. In the meantime, he's focused on making his two deceased fathers proud.
"And I want to set an example for my kids so they can serve their country too," he said.
The Soldier and NCO of the Year will be announced Oct. 8 during the Association of the United States Army Annual Meeting.
(Jorge Gomez works for the Fort Lee Public Affairs Office.)