Fort Detrick honors its top Soldiers for 2011
You've heard the tagline probably hundreds of times -- "Army Strong" -- but not everyone has the opportunity to witness this in person. At the 2011 Fort Detrick Non-commissioned Officer and Soldier of the Year awards ceremony, it was clearly displayed on all of the faces of the men and women gathered to celebrate the best of their best Dec. 20.
The four nominees for NCO of the Year and two nominees for Soldier of the Year participated in rigorous review boards during the past four quarters of 2011, and each won in their respective category to advance to the more intricate yearly finals which took place on post Nov. 21-22. The components of the yearly competition involved a physical fitness test, written test, themed essay, warrior task, two "mystery" tasks, and an oral board review in front of distinguished military leadership.
"As a part of our strategic objectives and goals, we must develop our future military leaders," said Command Sgt. Maj. Kevin B. Stuart of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command. "This is one way of conducting our Soldier development program."
This year's finalists hold various positions within the military, and represent a wide range of hometowns from across the United States.
Runners-up for the NCO of the Year award include Sgt. Irwin Anderson, a 68J from the 6th Medical Logistics Management Center; Sgt. Alvin Shaul, a 25S from the 298th Signal Company who was represented in his absence by Sgt. Jonathan Dugan; and Sgt. Clyde Williams, a 68W from the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases. Joining these three men was Solider of the Year runner-up Spc. Rico Johnson, a 92Y and a member of the 114th Signal Battalion.
From the ranks of this talented group of Soldiers emerged the two winners of 2011, who both represent USAMRIID. This dual win allows USAMRIID to retain both titles for a second consecutive year.
Capturing the honor of 2011 NCO of the Year was Staff Sgt. Craig Wayman, a 68W, while Spc. Elyse Troxell, a 68K, took the title of 2011 Soldier of the Year.
For Wayman, an emergency management medic who was recently inducted into the Fort Detrick Audie Murphy Club, this win signifies yet another milestone in the career of a very dedicated Soldier. Coming from a military family, the devoted staff sergeant enlisted nearly 7 years ago with the primary intention of serving his country. He hopes to one day retire from the military after he completes at least three decades of service.
And his mantra is a rather good one.
"Every Soldier wants to be a 'soldier' and wants to deploy and 'kick down doors' and do their job in a combat environment," he said. "But as an NCO and Soldier, you have to be able to adapt to all situations, in and out of combat."
Wayman credits Staff Sgt. Charles Warren and Staff Sgt. Jesse Kaplan as helping him the most as he progressed through this year's competition, although his entire unit "had [his] back 100% of the way" as well. His pride was evident as he spoke of representing his fellow Soldiers throughout the challenges he faced, and he said he took on this contest to serve as an example for other NCOs to participate in future competitions.
"My message to all other NCOs and Soldiers is to stay passionate," Wayman said. "You should always be passionate about the Army and about our jobs and the mission here. Don't become complacent -- keep that pride and passion."
With advice such as this, it's no surprise that Wayman was selected to represent Fort Detrick this year, and the odds are probably in his favor that he will accomplish all he sets out to do as a Soldier.
Sharing the spotlight as the 2011 Soldier of the Year, Troxell displayed her dedication to serving her country right from the start of her military career. Holding a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry from The Pennsylvania State University, she had entered the Army's officer training program directly out of college. En route to a commissioned rank, however, Troxell was injured and could not complete the intensive program. Faced with either an approved medical withdrawal from the military or continuing as an enlisted Soldier, the specialist chose the latter, unaware of what may lie ahead.
But her decision has certainly paid off -- in spades.
"It's a great honor to have won this title, but it is also a great responsibility," said Troxell. "I look forward to doing everything I can to help out Fort Detrick both on- and off-post."
"Although it is important to represent the 'total Soldier' while within the gates, it is equally important to do so throughout the local community," she said in her award-winning essay, which she read to those in attendance. "We are Soldiers at all times -- both on- and off-duty."
After only 3 years in uniform, Troxell is fortunate to be in a very good place in her career, and she knows this. In fact, she recognizes her command, USAMRIID, and her mentor, the 2010 NCO of the Year Sgt. Ester Collins, as two key factors in her winning the 2011 honors.
Speaking passionately of her role as a biological sciences research assistant at USAMRIID, Troxell said, "It is exactly what I wanted to do when I came into the Army."
And of her mentor Collins, she added, "She is exactly what an NCO should be -- guiding younger Soldiers in the right direction."
When considering the positive attitude displayed by this model Soldier, it is not very difficult to picture Troxell guiding younger warriors with sound advice in the near future.
Both winners impart a similar message to encourage their fellow comrades: Participation in this annual competition provides a very important educational experience for all Soldiers, regardless of whether or not you win the title.
This point is echoed by Stuart, who oversees the contest as the president of the review board.
"My definition of winning is participating in this competition," said Stuart. "These boards are about leadership development, and developing confidence as a Soldier."
Stuart hopes that from these two talented Soldiers, or select others within the command, perhaps one may represent the USAMRMC in the MEDCOM Soldier of the Year awards which will take place in 2012. And winning would be the "icing on the cake," as this title has eluded the USAMRMC in past competitions.
Without doubt, the tough tasks presented to these challengers offer each Soldier an opportunity to gauge his or her mettle -- which is certainly valuable before heading onto the battlefield to combat foes.
Upon handing out the awards to this year's winners, Maj. Gen. James K. Gilman, USAMRMC commander, offered a few words that perhaps transcend the entire competition.
"We have to have an organization that builds winners, but you cannot be a winner if you're not willing to compete," said Gilman. "And you cannot compete unless you're willing to risk losing."
Perhaps this says it all -- sums up in a nutshell the meaning and purpose of every Soldier who raises the flag each day in defense of their country. None may know what lies ahead, but we all know that we must go forward -- with the only expectation that failure is a possibility.
Many would agree that this characteristic remains at the core of each Soldier -- along with being strong, capable, knowledgeable, devoted, and determined.
Did I mention strong -- Army strong?
And this year's awards ceremony helped to shine a fond light on these traits -- not only for the winners, but for the entire team as well.
The country is fortunate to have such men and women with the courage to protect and care for their fellow citizens, knowing all the while things may not always end up as planned -- or hoped.
But they go on. And they're proud to proclaim this -- rather loudly, too.
"For wherever we go, you will always know, that the Army goes rolling along..."
Yes, it certainly does.