Top Honors at Fort Polk

A competitor in the PHA-Hood Soldier of the Year climbs over the 6-foot wall at the Geronimo confidence course at Fort Polk Sept. 24.

FORT POLK, La. — Seven Soldiers from two particular skill sets, animal care specialists and veterinary food inspector specialists, travelled to Fort Polk for the Public Health Activity-Hood Soldier of the Year competition Sept. 23-27. They were tested on tasks like weapons proficiency, day and night land navigation, combat lifesaver skills and more.

Staff Sgt. John Cohnes is with PHA-Hood and served as the noncommissioned officer in charge of the competition. He said the event is held at a different installation every year.

“Each of these competitors won their NCO or Soldier of the Quarter board from each branch of PHA-Hood,” he said. “They are being challenged on their Soldier skills, physical endurance and mental aptitude.”

Cohnes said one NCO and one Soldier would win the competition, then represent PHA-Hood as a team at the next higher-level board, which is held at Fort Hood.

Lt. Col. Anthony Marinos, commander, PHA-Hood, said these events are important to build morale and “remind us of our wartime mission.”

“These Soldiers are veterinarians and food inspectors but they also have the ability to support combat readiness,” he said.

Marino said he was happy to see the competition hosted at Fort Polk this year.

“I think we are fortunate to have this opportunity,” he said. “Our command covers the entire southwest region, from Fort Polk, Louisiana, to Fort Irwin, California, and I am glad we could do (the competition) here.”

Command Sgt. Maj. Darryl Bogan, command sergeant major of PHA-Hood’s parent command, Public Health Command-Central, visited Fort Polk Sept. 25 to observe the warfighter skills lane.

“We have a mission to ensure our tactical skills are proficient, and these competitions are a way to achieve that proficiency,” he said. “It reinforces that tactical knowledge, which is just as important as our technical skills. Executing these lanes is how we validate them.”

Most of the participants said the 12-mile ruck march was the most difficult event.

“The obstacle course was also physically draining but it (only required) short bursts of energy,” Sgt. David Wolfington, South Texas Branch, said. “I’m pooped after this ruck.”

Spc. Garrett Finley, Mojave Branch, agreed

“The ruck was 100% the hardest,” said Finley. “I think doing all the other events before this, then tacking on the hardest thing you can do (the ruck), is a lot of work.”

Wolfington said the event he most enjoyed was shooting targets at the engagement skills trainer.

“Clearing the rooms was great,” he said. “I’ve never done that before, so it was quite a treat.”

For Finley, the best part of the competition was esprit de corps between the candidates.

“I think being with all the other Soldiers is the most fun. We are helping each other get through everything,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed getting to know people from the other (PHA) branches.”

Candidates maintained their motivation as they persevered through each event, said Cohnes.

“They have done a great job and have exceeded my expectations,” he said. “Hopefully they will continue to do outstanding things.”