Best Warrior Competition: Manella top NCO, Christenson top soldier

Best Warrior Competition: Manella top NCO, Christenson top soldier

Wednesday, January 1, 2014


Greetings from the Association of the United States Army (AUSA), our Army’s and our soldiers’ professional organization.

The 2013 Department of the Army Best Warrior Competition was held at Fort Lee, Va., from Nov. 19 to 22. Originally scheduled for Oct. 15 to 18, the competition was postponed due to the government shutdown.

While there were many factors that negatively impacted this year’s competition, Sergeant Major of the Army Ray Chandler, the entire Army team and all the personnel at Fort Lee rallied to make this event a reality.

I had the honor to watch all the competitors arrive at Fort Lee on Monday, Nov. 18, eager and ready to demonstrate their preparation and professionalism in this milestone event.

Their performance throughout all the events was nothing short of amazing.

All of the competitors in both the noncommissioned officer and soldier categories represented their units with pride and dedication.

There is no doubt in my mind that unit and organizational leaders across the Army were proud of their competitors and their representation in this significant Department of the Army event.

The 2013 Department of the Army Noncommissioned Officer of the Year is Sgt. 1st Class Jason J. Manella, a civil affairs specialist assigned to the U.S. Army Reserve Command’s B Company, 445th Civil Affairs Battalion, Mountain View, Calif.

Manella is the first Army Reserve NCO to win the Department of the Army Noncommissioned Officer of the Year honors.

"I want to take this knowledge and experience back to my unit," Manella said, as he reflected on the journey that brought him to this level of competition.

"Here I feel as an Army Reserve soldier, I am automatically assumed to be the underdog," Manella said in an interview following the competition.

"They don’t feel that since I only work one weekend a month and two weeks out of the year that I would be the soldier who really stands out."

Adding, "I feel that it was advantageous to me because of my multiple deployments by having my boots on the ground."

For Manella, the two weeks out of the year is just the minimum.

He feels there are many opportunities for soldiers to better themselves, such as utilizing the Noncommissioned Officer Education System and even volunteering for missions.

Being diagnosed and then recovering from a traumatic brain injury last year when his convoy hit an improvised explosive device in the Kandahar Province of Afghanistan, was an exceptional challenge for Manella to overcome.

Struggling to cope with the effects of the injury, Manella said, "The first few months, it was very difficult. I’d get dizzy spells, nausea, headaches, a lot of confusion, and just a general inability to concentrate or read more than a few sentences at a time."

During his rehab, he decided to pick up the Army Study Guide and numerous manuals to help with his therapy.

He added, "I’ve been blessed with, essentially, a full recovery. I have pretty much nothing residual other than headaches, and reading and memorizing stuff is a little bit harder than it used to be. But I just have to try harder than I used to."

The 2013 Department of the Army Soldier of the Year is Spc. Adam Christensen, a military policeman assigned to the U.S. Army Pacific Command’s 472nd Military Police Company, 793rd Military Police Battalion, 2nd Engineer Brigade, Fort Wainwright, Alaska.

"The board has always been my weakness," Christensen said in an interview following the competition.

"Being in the field and doing the warrior tasks and battle drills, that’s where I love to be. Honestly, I have to hand it to my NCO and sponsor, Sergeant Norton who sat me down, and we went step-by-step through the most important things for a board."

With only two years of service in the Army, Christensen did not have the advantage of being deployed like most of his counterparts.

Reflecting on how he minimized the lack of experience, he said, "I think what’s helped me get this far is just having great Army leadership."

"Anything is possible," Christensen said. "When I joined the Army, I failed the first PT test I ever took. But I told myself that, by the end of basic training, I’d be able to score a 300."

How did he overcome adversity? He said, "I was in the bay at night with a circle of guys just doing pushups like crazy. And by the end of basic training, I had a perfect PT score."

Adding, "So every time I get soldiers who have problems with their PT tests, I tell them that story. If you push yourself and have the drive, no matter where you come from, no matter what your MOS is, you can get yourself there. Never give up. Be professional. Keep pushing yourself."

Manella and Christensen will represent the U.S. Army as spokespersons throughout the year at a wide variety of events.

Both these soldiers have great stories to tell, and their personal example throughout their current Army careers serve as examples for others who want to excel and set themselves apart from their peers.

While each of these soldiers received a wide variety of recognition throughout this adventure, the greatest reward was the knowledge, experience and expertise they gained across dozens and dozens of subject areas.

The reward for these two soldiers, along with the other 22 competitors, is the opportunity to mentor and improve the Army in the areas where they serve; to make their piece of the Army and the soldiers they serve better than they were before they arrived.

This year, in addition to the noncommissioned officer and soldier of the year winners, the second and third place competitors were announced and recognized at the awards banquet that followed the competition.

The second and third place noncommissioned officers of the year are Staff Sgt. Cory M. Schmidt, U.S. Army Forces Command, and Staff Sgt. DeGosh Reed from the U.S. Army Pacific Command.

The second and third place soldiers of the year are Spc. Mitchell R. Fromm from the U.S. Army Reserve Command, and Spc. Michael Sands from the U.S. Army Military District of Washington.

Gen. John F. Campbell, Army vice chief of staff, and Chandler made the official announcements and presented awards to the outstanding soldiers at a banquet.

Campbell told the audience of Army leaders, family members and competitors to let him and the Army leadership worry about money and budgets.

He told the competitors to take all the experiences and knowledge they had gained from this competition back to the soldiers in their organizations.

Chandler called the winners the best of what the Army has to offer.

"I’m proud of them," he said following the competition.

Adding, "They are the standard bearers, the disciplined leaders and future mentors. The Army is a profession, and they represent all of us."

From all of us at AUSA, congratulations to all these great noncommissioned officers and soldiers, and thank you for serving as role models for those aspiring young leaders who want to emulate and follow in their footsteps.

Now more than ever America’s Army needs AUSA, and AUSA needs your membership support.


Still Serving, Still Saluting!