Command Sgt. Maj. Jimmie Spencer, USA, Ret.
Director, Noncommissioned Officer and Soldier Programs
Sgt. 1st Class Aaron Beckman, U.S. Army Europe Command, was named NCO of the Year, and Spc. Clancey Henderson, U.S. Army Forces Command, Soldier of the Year on Oct. 5 at the 2009 Association of the United States Army’s Annual Meeting.
Their awards came after six days at Fort Lee, Va., in the annual Best Warrior Competition where they were pitted against other representatives from the Army’s major commands. There were 24 total competitors – 12 each of soldiers and NCOs.
"Now that I’m here, I’m awestruck, to be honest," Henderson said in a press conference just after the announcement. "They had some really great competitors out there, the best the Army has to offer."
Before announcing the winners, Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth O. Preston said the competition was a tribute to the first sergeants and company commanders who promote self fulfillment and self study as the early stages of the competition begin with the NCO and soldier of the month boards.
Beckman, who has been in the Army for 12 years and was one of the oldest competing, said when he first met his younger competitors, he knew he would have to step up his game.
"I was pretty nervous," he said. "When I started talking to them, they were all really well developed, they were trained and they understand what they’re supposed to be doing. I was like, ‘Wow, these are young soldiers.’ I was looking down at the service stripes on their left sleeve and I’m seeing zero or one … I have four.
Sgt. 1st Class Aaron Beckman, representing U.S. Army Europe, reacts to an attack during the ‘Evaluate a Casualty’ Warrior Tasks and Battle Drills. Beckman was named NCO of the Year.
"Everything they did, I tried to do one better. I may not have been able to all the time, but it was me just giving 100 percent. And them doing their best just helped me out."
Preston said the events in the competition have evolved not only in testing the NCOs and soldiers but giving them something to bring back to the soldiers in their home units.
"There are going to be soldiers assigned to me, and I’m going to make sure I prepare them not just to be somebody that can compete in a competition but somebody that can be effective in the battlefield and be able to take care of their own soldiers as they progress throughout their career," said Beckman, who has been instructing combatives at the 7th Army NCO Academy at Grafenwoehr, Germany, but whose MOS is a combat engineer.
Also, with combatives as the final event, Beckman, who towered over most the competitors, had one of the more awkward tasks of fighting the smallest NCO in the competition, Sgt. Sarah Haskins, U.S. Space and Missile Defense Command. He didn’t want to make it look easy with a quick victory, but he began to worry that "I would get stuck in something I couldn’t get out.
"Nevertheless, she still had that warrior ethos," he said. "She wanted to close the distance with the enemy, try to gain a dominant position to finish the fight. She attacked and did what she needed to do, but of course, I had to do what I had to do."
Beckman said that as he was progressing through the unit- and command-level boards, he encouraged other soldiers to compete as well, and they fed off each other as they, too, began winning.
Spc. Clancey Henderson, U.S. Army Europe, sets his sights on a terrorist in a hostage scenario. Henderson was named Soldier of the Year.
"My achievements are their achievements," he said. "I wouldn’t be here without them."
Since he has been named NCO of the Year, he said there will be the added pressure of setting a good example and he will have to be "twice as cognizant" in maintaining standards and appearances.
Beckman is married with three children, and he’s originally from Venango, Neb. In 2003, he deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
For Henderson, he considered the physical fitness test his best event, and he blazed around the two-mile course in the fastest time in the history of the competition.
"My parents have always encouraged me to put forth every effort that I can," he said. "In the Army, they emphasize PT a lot, and obviously that’s something I really get behind. You get up in the morning, you exercise and you feel good. Those days that you don’t do your exercise, you kind of feel sluggish."
Self-described as soft spoken and shy, he thought his weakness would be the board appearance Monday in front of Preston and six command sergeants major, but he came up with a new approach before opening the door and marching in front of the senior NCOs.
"Every board I’ve ever come out of, the sergeants major have told me to speak up," said Henderson, who has been in the Army only two years. "Going into this board, I thought I shouldn’t be nervous, I’d done this before. These people aren’t here to critique me or find fault with me; they’re here to figure out who I am."
He found himself full of confidence, "and my concerns were swept under the rug."
Henderson said it was "odd" when he heard the sergeant major of the Army call his name. He had built up friendships over the week with the other soldiers competing, and he was excited for them as well in the buildup to Preston’s announcement.
"I’m absolutely humbled and honored to have known them for that week," Henderson said. "I made some really good friends."
Throughout the competition, Henderson said he had the mentality to do his best and not get down on himself if something didn’t go as expected.
"I don’t get down on myself if I fail at something," Henderson said. "I look at it as an opportunity to assess myself, see what I did wrong and get back at it."
Henderson said winning the award will change the way he approaches his job as an intelligence analyst with the 1st Infantry Division at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.
"I’ve learned a lot preparing for the competition and participating," he said. "I see the Army a little bit more broadly now, how it functions and what role I play. So going in with that understanding will definitely affect how I work and how I approach my work."
Henderson is originally from Longmont, Colo.
Additional events the soldiers and NCOs competed in included day and night land navigation, warrior tasks and battle drills, M-4 range competition, and the infamous "mystery event" which is kept secret until the morning of the final day. This year it included emergency trauma, a hostage rescue and Humvee rollover procedures.
"You come to the competition to demonstrate what you are capable of and how well your command has trained you and overall what the Army expects of its soldiers," Henderson said.