After a two-day contest in May amongst two Soldiers and two non-commissioned officers, the NCO and Soldier of the Year for fiscal year 2013 at the National Training Center and Fort Irwin have been determined.
Sergeant Stella Hardcastle achieved the recognition of NCO of the Year and Spc. Matthew Holiday earned the spot of Soldier of the Year.
Holiday is a military intelligence analyst with Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, Regimental Support Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment.
He operates radios and telephones for a tactical operations cell in the S3 section at HHT. The Syracuse, N.Y., native has been in the Army approximately a year and a half, with Fort Irwin being his first duty station.
Hardcastle serves with Eagle Team in Operations Group. She is a technical inspector for OH-58A and C Kiowa helicopters, and has been in the Army five years. She is originally from Redlands, Calif.
The other Soldiers who competed were Spc. Avin Sumesar, of G Troop, 2nd Squadron, 11th ACR and Sgt. Lucas Davalos, with K Troop, 2/11th ACR.
The winners were described by NTC and Fort Irwin Command Sgt. Maj. Lance P. Lehr as aggressive and ambitious in their profession within the Army.
“Both are hard-charging young Soldiers who are taking the time, energy, and effort to better themselves as Soldiers and to become better Leaders,” Lehr said. “They are improving themselves by learning and executing – and as such, are preparing for a career that will likely be excellent.”
The annual competition took place May 6-7 and included individual trials in Army Physical Fitness Training, weapons qualification, day and night land navigation, Army Warrior Task/Battle Drill testing, a written examination, and a board. The board was administered by several command sergeants major from this installation, including Lehr, Command Sgt. Maj. Maurice Jackson (OPS GRP), Command Sgt. Maj. James Higgins (916th Support Brigade), and Command Sgt. Maj. Stephen J. Travers (11th ACR).
The board portion can be a grueling question and answer session between young Soldiers and seasoned NCO’s, who can challenge the most prepared Soldier.
“It was definitely intense,” Hardcastle said after spending almost an hour with the senior NCO’s.
Maintaining her military bearing while sitting still and being flustered was hard, Hardcastle said. She competed and won two previous boards to participate in the post-level event, and said that this one had been the most demanding. She is content in having taken part in the competition.
“I wanted to go through this process early in my career, so I can then direct Soldiers [to do the same],” Hardcastle said. “‘How can I ever ask a Soldier to do something that I wasn’t willing to do myself?’ Win or lose, it doesn’t matter; at least I’ve gone through the process. I know what it’s like, I did my best.”
The competition was a difficult event, even a bit stressful, said Holiday.
“It’s been a good challenge,” Holiday remarked during competition.
Holiday has not been shy about facing a good problem. He enlisted after college, because he admired what military servicemembers do and he look forward to being challenged in the Army. Preparation for the contest proved significant in setting him apart from fellow competitors.
“I spent a lot of time reviewing the study materials, going over the warrior tasks and battle drills, both on my own and with my NCO’s – including the weapons and all those tasks – and just working on my PT as well,” Holiday said.
Each challenger had a sponsor, a higher ranking sergeant, who coached during the weeks leading up to the competition and accompanied the Soldier to each event. Sergeant 1st Class Christian Johnson, operations NCO for Eagle Team, assisted Hardcastle by escorting her to the board portion the second day of the competition.
“She’s very self-motivated, which made it easier on her supervisors, [because] she continued to get her job done daily, but she also made that time to prepare herself for the board,” Johnson said. “She’s definitely one of the best [sergeants] I’ve known.”
Lehr explained that the two Soldiers’ past and continued success is very significant at the local level and puts the Soldiers in a unique position of representing the NTC and Fort Irwin at the next competition. Hardcastle and Holiday are scheduled to contend at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., June 9-14. They will be striving for the title of I Corps NCO and Soldier of the Year. Winning at I Corps would propel them to the U.S. Army Forces Command competition at Fort Bragg, N. C., later this summer.
“This is a big deal,” Lehr said. “This is a feather in anyone’s cap – I’m proud of them!”