CA NCO/Soldier of the Year Banquet   printer  

CAARNGs Soldier and NCO of the year are flanked by dignitaries during the February 24 banquet aboard the Queen Mary. SPC Richard X. Olmedo (left center) and SSG Jorge A. Garcia (right center) were awarded Soldier/NCO of the Year. Far left: CSM Michael Bartelle, senior NCO, Allied Command Operations. Far right: CSM William Clark, senior enlisted advisor, California Army National Guard. Photos by SGT Eddie Siguenza

By CW2 Marc Yablonka

Courtesy of California Army National Guard

4/10/07, Long Beach, CA— 62 years after the end of WWII, perhaps the grandest lady to ever sail the seas, the Queen Mary, once again served as a troop ship. This time, however, she stayed at anchor in Long Beach Harbor as several hundred California Army and Air National Guard members gathered in her Grand Ballroom for the 7th Annual NCO and Soldier of the Year Banquet on February 24.

Even while in port, troops were transported through an evening honoring not only the winners, but all the honorees. The Soldier of the Year Minuteman trophies went to SPC Richard X. Olmedo, Co. E, 540th MSB, and SSG Jorge A. Garcia, HHC, 40th Infantry Division (Mechanized), NCO of the Year.

There to pay tribute to all those honored, was CSM Michael Bartelle, Allied Command Operations Senior NCO, who had flown in from Europe and his post at NATO, to be the key note speaker.

“Being a good Soldier or Airman is more than equipment, tactics, technology and procedures. It is a state of mind, attitude adopted by those willing to make changes necessary for the 21st century,” said CSM Bartelle.

In a direct reference to SPC Olmedo and SSG Garcia, CSM Bartelle added, "They are us. We are the reflection of goodness; dedication within us, and love for our country."

CSM Bartelle went on to applaud, not only the hard work that SPC Olmedo and SSG Garcia did, but all those who were considered, as well as the entire U.S. Armed Forces. "The sacrifices they make listening and learning are a profound and significant lesson," he stressed.

The lessons learned covered five categories: physical training, Soldier skills, common task skills, marksmanship and land navigation. The competition occurred over a three day period at Camp San Luis Obispo in early December.

Though very humble about being named the recipients, both Soldier of the Year Olmedo, who also served in Korea with the 172nd Armored Battalion 2003-2004, and NCO of the Year Garcia, who returned from deployment with the 40th Infantry Division (Mechanized) in Kosovo in early 2006, had very strong feelings about what they had come away with after the competition was all over.

"The knowledge, physical training, and potential for leadership and achievement," are what SPC Olmedo, from Adelante, CA, said he would carry forth with him.

For his part, SSG Garcia will remember the leadership training that the military provides, and the extent to which the military looks out for the welfare of its soldiers in making them combat ready.

“The most difficult thing for me was gearing up,” SSG Garcia said when reached by phone from his Diamond Bar home after the banquet. “I’m just an M-Day Soldier with a job and the only male role model for my sister’s five kids. It was tough.”

Descending the stairs to the stage where the awards were handed out, SPC Olmedo said, "Everyone tried hard. Everyone made the effort. I can't believe that I was chosen to be recognized."

Though he felt speechless at the time because it was "still sinking in," SSG Garcia managed to say, "It's a great honor. I just wanted to do my part for the U.S. Army. I never thought [winning] would be for me. It’s a privilege to represent the California National Guard.” 

Both Soldiers emphasized that, while it was a competition, all of those involved banded together to help one another. "Though it was competitive, we came together and took care of each other," the SSG added.

The other honorees for Soldier of the Year were Specialists Jared C. Barnes, Company B, 40th Special troops Battalion (Mechanized); Evan K. Kubota, HSC 579th Engineer Battalion; Evelyn Montes, 118th Maintenance Company; and Karen O. Vy, HSC 640th ASB.

NCO honorees were Sergeants Michael Avila, Accession Task Force; Jonathon S. Burnett, HHD 540th Support Battalion; Lisa E. Milam, 118th Maintenance company; Noah J. Ronquillo, Accession Task Force; Michael Wilson, 649th Military Police Company; and SSG Nai N. Sosongkham, Company B, 1-184 Infantry.         

Both SPC Olmedo and SSG Garcia are already making preparations to head to Arizona for the regional competition slated for April.

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4/10/2007, 2:29 PM