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Soldiers compete for top honors

Sgt. Maj. Marvin J. Pinckney, USAACE G-3 sergeant major, inspects Soldiers upon their return from the land navigation course during the 2014 USAACE NCO/Soldier of the Year competition March 3. (Photo by Nathan Pfau)

Sgt. Maj. Marvin J. Pinckney, USAACE G-3 sergeant major, inspects Soldiers upon their return from the land navigation course during the 2014 USAACE NCO/Soldier of the Year competition March 3. (Photo by Nathan Pfau)

Published: March 6, 2014

FORT RUCKER, Ala. (March 6, 2014) -- More than 20 Soldiers from Across Army Aviation came to Fort Rucker to brave physical endurance tests, mental challenges and academic examinations for one of Aviation’s top honors, but only three had what it takes to come out on top.

The installation hosted the 2014 U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence NCO/Soldier and Advance Individual Training Platoon Sergeant of the Year competition, and although the 21 competitors came from Fort Rucker, Fort Eustis, Va. and Fort Huachuca, Ariz., all three winners hailed from Mother Rucker.

Sgt. James Old, 98th Army “Silver Wings” Band, Staff Sgt. Brandon Woodson, A Company, 1st Battalion, 13th Aviation Regiment, and Pvt. 1st Class Eddie Gelineau, B Co., 1st Bn., 11th Avn. Regt., were named NCO of the year, AIT Platoon Sergeant of the Year and Soldier of the Year, respectively, during a ceremony at the U.S. Army Aviation Museum March 4.

Command Sgt. Maj. James H. Thomson Jr., Aviation Branch command sergeant major, was on hand during the ceremony to congratulate not only the winners, but all who participated in the competition.

“You’re representing your unit, and the fact that you’re here and stepped up to put your name in the hat to compete means that you’re winners to me,” he said. “It speaks to your character and speaks to your commitment, and I want to thank you for giving it your all these past 48 hours.”

During those 48 hours, Soldiers were up from dawn until dusk having their mettle tested, and each of the winners said that it took lots of motivation and support from not only their unit, but Family, as well, to get through the competition.

“I have a very supportive spouse who helped me prepare and helped me get ready,” said Old. “You’ve got to have a lot of self-discipline and it takes a tremendous amount of support from your leaders, as well as people at home.”

Support doesn’t win the competition alone, however. Preparation was a key factor in giving the Soldiers the edge to win amongst their peers.

“I’ve been doing a lot of physical training; going to the gym and participating in a lot of ruck marches for the past six months just for this event,” said Gelineau.

“You have to balance your preparation between the physical events, as well as boards, which is the more academic side,” added Old. “You want to make sure that you’ve got everything prepared for both sides of the event.”

“I’d prepare with someone who’s been through it and seek knowledge from them so you can get a good idea of what to expect,” said Woodson. “Just do your job and do it right, and your superiors will take notice.”

Each Soldier had to endure two days of tests and competed in events that tested their physical strength and endurance, mental agility and competence, and their commitment to Army Aviation, according to Sgt. Maj. Marvin J. Pinckney, USAACE G-3 sergeant major.

“The purpose of this year’s competition was to find the best-of-the-best Soldier in USAACE,” said Pinckney. “It’s important for the Army to recognize these Soldiers and NCOs to put them apart from their peers.”

Throughout the competition, Soldiers underwent a 6.1-mile road march wearing more than 35 pounds of gear; demonstrated their land navigation skills; demonstrated survival skills; performed immediate lifesaving measures; demonstrated their skills with preventative maintenance checks and services; maintained, employed and engaged targets with assigned weapons systems; and were tested on their knowledge of Army policies and history through a series of boards.

There was also a mystery event that Soldiers took part in, during which each Soldier had to swim 25 meters in their Army combat uniform, then reassemble their issued weapon while dripping wet. But for most, it was the early morning road march that took the most out of them.

“The 6.1-mile road march was pretty difficult,” said Gelineau. “You see everyone start off running and you just try to keep up the pace. It took a lot of motivation and drive to want to do this – it takes work.”

Each Soldier had their reason to participate in the competition, but most said their reason to compete was to set themselves apart.

“I think it’s important, anytime we get the opportunity, to distinguish ourselves amongst our peers and try to reach for that next level,” said Old. “We need to lead from the front, and that’s an opportunity that we have to take.”

The winners will go on to compete at the Army Training and Doctrine Command level and if they win there, move on to the Army-level competition.

This article was originally published at

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