FORT HUACHUCA, Ariz. -- Some people are born with drive and ambition, always striving to better themselves and their situation, always striving to achieve some form of greatness; yet there are others who are just fine with mediocrity.

Staff Sgt. Phillip Lee, an AH-64D armament/electrical/avionics repairer, advanced individual training platoon sergeant for Company A, 2nd Battalion, 13th Aviation Regiment, and winner of the Aviation Center of Excellence Platoon Sergeant of the Year competition, was once content to be a mediocre Soldier.

“When I first joined, I had no motivation, no ambition; I didn’t really know what I was doing,” said Lee. “I was 17, just graduated from high school, so I just sat there and tried not to get into trouble. I definitely wasn't the worst, but I never tried to be the best.”

Everything changed for Lee when he experienced a defining moment as a young sergeant.

“I had a Soldier that I took to the board, and he was one of my buddies,” he explained. “I didn't help him study, and I should have.

“He didn't make it”

Lee's platoon sergeant was angry about the situation and chastised him for the Soldier's failure at the board.

“He said, 'Yeah, you know what? It's his fault for not studying, but it's your fault too, because you have his career in your hands at this moment in time, and you let him fall through,' and it didn't really sink in until later,” Lee said. “But, since I made my staff sergeant, every year I have become more hungry, more ambitious, and I want to do things to become better.”

According to Lee, that incident put him “on the straight and narrow,” guiding him in the right direction to become a better Soldier and a better non-commissioned officer, but there have been many more “defining moments” over the past six or seven years that shaped him into the NCO he is today.

One particularly significant event in Lee's career happened a few years ago, when he saw four Soldiers die in a rocket attack, about 50 to 100 feet from where he was standing at the time.

“We all rushed in [and] performed buddy aid. That stayed with me,” he said. “It still stays with me because, in my opinion, they died because … they didn't do the proper things when they heard the alarm.”

Although Lee had already displayed significant growth as an NCO, that experience changed something inside him.

“I actually met the father of one of the Soldiers, and that made the world seem so small,” he said. “That one point allows me to be meticulous and very exact when it comes to teaching these Soldiers the standards; because right in front of me, they weren't doing the standard … and they didn't survive.”

Lee clarified his statement, “Of course, there's no way of knowing they could have survived, but there's a possibility that they could have, had they done the proper procedures: gotten straight on the ground, instead of just looking up, wondering where it was going to land, or [by] getting into the bunkers when they heard the alarms.”

This experience resonated so deeply with Lee, his determination to excel and lead Soldiers carries over into every aspect of his military career today.

Lee is proud of his accomplishment, but adamant that he is not competing for himself alone. He is competing for the Soldier he failed several years ago and the new Soldiers he mentors today.

“In my opinion, excellence is two-fold. One is the thing already inside of me that wants to be the best,” he said. “But when I go out here and see these Soldiers and the way they look at me and want to be like me, it makes me want to be the best " not for me, but for them.”

The next step for Lee is to travel to Fort Jackson, S.C., Aug. 22-26, to compete against about 15 other AIT platoon sergeants of the year who will be representing their respective branches within Training and Doctrine Command, in the third annual TRADOC AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year competition.

Lee sees this as another no-fail mission.

He has successfully transitioned from lackluster NCO who enabled his Soldier to fail a promotion board so long ago, to the dedicated NCO who is winning boards and representing his unit and peers with honor today.

“I am going into this with the intent of 'I'm going to win,'” he said. “In my mind, I have already won.”