Military Members of the Year Awards

Senior noncommissioned officers and NCOs from MEPS around the United States assembled Sept. 8 at the Abbey Resort in Fontana, Wisconsin, for the 2019 enlisted Military Member of the Year competition.  Ten candidates – the annual winners from the Eastern Sector, Western Sector, and USMEPCOM Headquarters competitions, tested their mental and physical grit.

Events included a physical fitness test, obstacle course challenge, weapons qualification, leadership essay, staff ride, and concluded with the board and Equal Opportunity training.

In the end, Air Force Master Sgt. Leslie Rivera, Los Angeles MEPS, is the USMEPCOM Senior NCO of the Year and Marine Corps Sgt. Benjamin Hodges, Buffalo MEPS, is the USMEPCOM Junior NCO of the Year. Air Force Master Sgt. Cheasa Crump, USMEPCOM Headquarters, and Air Force Tech. Sgt. Talisa Bell, Memphis MEPS, were runners-up.

Other competitors were Air Force Master Sgt. Leslie Hernandez, Albany MEPS; Army Sgt. 1st Class Johnny Gonzalez, Portland, Oregon, MEPS; Army Sgt. 1st Class Jackie Burrage, Portland, Maine, MEPS; Army Staff Sgt. Alejandro Torres, USMEPCOM Headquarters; Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Mitchell Tinelli, Boise MEPS; and Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Brandon Hartman, Honolulu MEPS.

Company grade officers competed in a separate event. Army Capt. Morgan J. Sullivan, Lansing MEPS, is the Company Grade Officer of the Year. Army Capt. Elijah Fennell, Denver MEPS was runner-up.

Enlisted candidates completed the physical fitness test and obstacle course at St. John’s Northwestern Military Academy in Delafield, Wisconsin.

The physical fitness event consisted of components from four military branch fitness assessments.

The first event was the Army’s two minute push-ups, where candidates completed as many pushups as possible in two minutes. For the second event, the candidates had to complete the Army’s two minute sit-ups. The Army, Navy, and Air Force are all required to complete pushups and sit-ups for their respective services fitness test. The only difference is the time requirement.

The next event was probably the most challenging because only the Marines perform the ammo can lift. Candidates had to lift a 30 pound ammo can overhead locking out their elbows for as many repetitions as possible within two minutes.

The fourth event was the Navy and Marines’ two-minute plank.

The Air Force’s 1.5 mile run was the final event of the fitness test.

As a team building event, candidates were divided into two-person teams before attacking the eight-obstacle course. Candidates had to run across two inverted planks, zig-zag through a mini maze, climb an eight-foot wall, jump over five waist-high hurdles, swing across 12 monkey bars that stood about 15 feet tall, maneuver across a wire using their core strength, then grab a rope and swing over a final hurdle. Then they ran over to a grassy area where they pulled five-gallon fuel cans 50 feet with a rope.

Team 6, Gonzalez and Tinelli, recorded the fastest time for the obstacle course and were the fitness champions.

The candidates were then transported to Madison, Wisconsin, for leadership development over lunch with Headquarters USMEPCOM MMOY cadre members Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Chad Gerrits, Air Force Master Sgt. Jamie Harris, Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Edgar Jimenez, Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael Mahan and Carr before the weapons qualification part of the competition where they learned additional details about each other like where they were born, what their specific duties were in their respective service, the MEPS at which they are located and their job at there. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Christian Carr, USMEPCOM senior enlisted advisor, also mentored the candidates during lunch. 

The lunch was also a perfect time for some developmental counseling from Carr and the cadre members. The candidates displayed their warfighting skills using the Engagement Skills Trainer, a military virtual reality training system. The competitors, in two-person teams, were required to engage 40 moving targets with an M16 rifle.

They then completed an essay about leadership. The essay challenged the competitors to use their critical thinking skills to reflect on their knowledge as well as experiences as they relate to both servant and transformational leadership.

Following the essay the both mentally and physically exhausted candidates returned to the Abbey.

The candidates began Day 2 with a staff ride the Milwaukee County War Memorial. Each candidate paid homage to those who served before them in their respective services by preparing a briefing based on exhibits in the War Memorial. The competitors also heard firsthand accounts from various veterans about their unique military experiences.

One highlight of the visit was a presentation by Jeanie Sijan, the sister of Medal of Honor recipient Air Force Capt. Lance P. Sijan. She talked about the type of person her brother was and hearing his story straight from one of his loved ones gave a perspective on the man only she could.

Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Erik Smith, from 224 Fox Company, talked about fallen Marines with whom he had not only served, but also grew up with and knew on a personal level.

After the heritage briefs the members headed to the Coast Guard Station in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The Coast Guardsmen took the competitors out for a ride on Lake Michigan aboard one of their high speed response boats.

Once the competitors returned to the dock they broadened their military heritage knowledge by visiting Kenosha’s Civil War Museum. The museum features interactive displays designed to show life during the Civil War. They also learned about how the war affected various people.

The formal Military Member of the Year board convened on the final day. Board members were senior leaders from each branch in addition to each sector’s senior enlisted advisor. Carr served as board president. The senior NCOs were asked scenario-based questions from various topics located on the USMEPCOM SPEAR page. Topics included, sponsorship, transition assistance, developmental counseling and leadership development. They answered questions by reflecting on their own leadership experiences. The NCOs were asked questions from the USMEPCOM study guide. Topics included USMEPCOM history, Geneva Convention, duties of an NCO, Awards and Decorations, and service specific information. 

Army Capt. Morgan J. Sullivan, Lansing MEPS

Air Force Master Sgt. Leslie Rivera, Los Angeles MEPS

Marine Corps Sgt. Benjamin Hodges, Buffalo MEPS