A steel-cool, Teutonic rain sprinkled down on Tuesday morning as a I awoke to start the Soldier of the Year competition. I looked out the front door of the barracks as gray cirrus seeded the earth with raindrops, and Soldiers made their way to morning formation. I saw several new faces, each pensive and attempting to hide the nervousness that boiled inside each competitor. Their eyes scanned their opponents, searching for weakness that would assure them that they deserved the trophy, that they were worthy of their appearance at this tough event.
Making my way to the small group of potential victors, I listened to the briefing given prior to the physical fitness test. We stood in three lines while an NCO evaluator counted our pushups and situps. I was, by fay, the oldest Soldier competing. I didn’t care. This is all a test of Will, drive and the desire to prove your worth to a Universe that conspires against us. No one was going to beat me, physically. Unless the universe found my intensity lacking, my Will weak. Two decades of accumulated injuries whispered to my brain: “You have us to contend with, too. We don’t think you have it in you.” I smirked and reminded them that they were nothing. The scars from five knee surgeries are trophies to me, evidence that pain means nothing. It’s only pulses of electricity along neural pathways, perceived as discomfort.
It was my turn for the pushups, and I had in mind the number that I needed to reach in order to get the 100th percentile: 76. Too easy. I’d made my mind up that I wouldn’t burn myself out going too far beyond that, because the Army wants Soldiers to be well balanced. If I failed to reach the 100 percentile in situps because my energy was already burned, than I wouldn’t be able to go into the “extended scale” and that could make the difference against other tough Soldiers. I pressed out 85 pushups in the wet grass. It was more than anyone else had done. Next the situps–83. Another 100. Finally, we were bussed to the running route. I love the run and it’s where I really make my bread and butter, because it’s a test of Will. It’s not terribly long, but you still have to run faster then everyone else. We lined up, snorting and nervously setting our watches as if to disguise our shaky confidence. When the whistle blew, I blasted off hard, in order to gain an immediate lead, wanting to shatter the Will of those behind me. The rain had ceased, leaving only the splashes of wind-blown water dusting off the fields which surrounding our route. The first three minutes of the run had me wanting to vomit. I just kept moving through it, knowing that my body in T minus one minute would find homeostasis, that a dump of adrenaline and natural painkillers would ward off, for a short time, the affects of the Cardio Respiratory Distress. I reached the turn around point at exactly 6 minutes. No one was close to me. I liked the fact that the others had to see me on the way back. They had to think and believe: “I can’t catch him, second place is good enough.” Even though my time wouldn’t matter in the overall event points–only my place of finish– I refused to slow wanting to make an impression. I crossed the finish line at 12:12 minutes. I heard the NCOs whispering: “That guy’s 38, you believe that?” One NCO, after finishing the run, vomited in the bushes behind me.
I had burst to an early lead in the Soldier of the Year event. But there were many more events to go, and SPC Scott, who’d done well in the PT test and had much more experience in the Army, would shadow me throughout the three days. Could I shake him?
We showered and ate breakfast, reconnoitering at 0900 hrs to be bussed to Mannheim for the rifle and pistol range, and most of the other events too.