276th Engineer Battalion Soldier named Soldier of the Year, 429th BSB troop claims NCO of the Year title

Command Sgt. Maj. Wesley Pinckney, the 429th Brigade Support Battalion command sergeant major, congratulates Sgt. Jason Hill of Company C, 429th BSB, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, after he is named the 2013 Virginia Army National Guard NCO of the Year March 30, 2014, at Fort Pickett, Va. Spc. Taylore Horn (second from left) of the 180th Engineer Company, 276th Engineer Battalion, 91st Troop Command, was named the 2013 Virginia Army National Guard Soldier of the Year.

Command Sgt. Maj. Wesley Pinckney, the 429th Brigade Support Battalion command sergeant major, congratulates Sgt. Jason Hill of Company C, 429th BSB, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, after he is named the 2013 Virginia Army National Guard NCO of the Year March 30, 2014, at Fort Pickett, Va. Spc. Taylore Horn (second from left) of the 180th Engineer Company, 276th Engineer Battalion, 91st Troop Command, was named the 2013 Virginia Army National Guard Soldier of the Year.

FORT PICKETT, Va. — Virginia Army National Guard Soldiers from around the state competed for the 2013 Virginia National Guard Soldier and Noncommissioned Officer of the Year titles March 29-30, 2014, at Fort Pickett.

Spc. Taylore Horn of the 180th Engineer Company, 276th Engineer Battalion, 91st Troop Command, was named the 2013 Virginia Army National Guard Soldier of the Year.

Sgt. Jason Hill of Company C, 429th Brigade Support Battalion, 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, took home the title of 2013 Virginia Army National Guard NCO of the Year.

“I am still excited to this day,” Horn said more than a week after the competition. “I feel like all my hard work is finally paying off and being noticed.”

Spc. Taylore Horn of the 180th Engineer Company, 276th Engineer Battalion, 91st Troop Command, competes during the Army Warrior Tasks portion of the 2013 Virginia Army National Guard Soldier of the Year competition. Horn, a native of New Orleans, La., is a horizontal construction engineer, has been in the Army for three years, and has been in the 180th for a year and a half. She lives in Richmond, where she attends Virginia Commonwealth University full time studying exercise science. (Photo by Master Sgt. A.J. Coyne, Virginia Guard Public Affairs Office)

Spc. Taylore Horn of the 180th Engineer Company, 276th Engineer Battalion, 91st Troop Command, competes during the Army Warrior Tasks portion of the 2013 Virginia Army National Guard Soldier of the Year competition. Horn, a native of New Orleans, La., is a horizontal construction engineer, has been in the Army for three years, and has been in the 180th for a year and a half. She lives in Richmond, where she attends Virginia Commonwealth University full time studying exercise science. (Photo by Master Sgt. A.J. Coyne, Virginia Guard Public Affairs Office)

“It’s an honor to be the person to add to the many accomplishments the 180th has,” she added.

Horn, a horizontal construction engineer who has been in the Army for three years, is a native of New Orleans, La. She has been in the 180th for a year and a half and lives in Richmond, where she attends Virginia Commonwealth University full time studying exercise science.

Hill, a health care specialist, is a Virginia Beach native, who currently lives in Hurt, Va., and works in the emergency department at Lynchburg General Hospital. A graduate of James Madison University, Hill is also pursuing his master’s degree in order to become a physician’s assistant.

A total of 14 Soldiers and NCOs competed in this year’s state competition.

“They all gave 100% and any one of them could have walked away as the winner of the NCO or Soldier of the Year,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Carl Holcomb, the Virginia Army National Guard command sergeant major. “I have stated in the past the caliber of NCOs and Soldiers that units nominate and send to this level of competition seems to get better and better each time. This year was no exception. In my honest opinion all of them were winners.”

“The competition seems to get tougher each year,” added Command Sgt. Maj. Daryl Plude, the 276th Engineer Battalion command sergeant major. “It was rainy and cold both days and the Soldiers drove on through all the stations with little to no gripes. It was really impressive to see them out there giving it their all.”

“I have a lot of motivation to do competitions like this, so when I get the chance, I take full advantage,” Horn said. “The key was staying focused, motivated, and having fun.”

“After the first couple of events I felt like I was doing pretty well,” Hill recalled. “But at the end I didn’t think it was going to be me.”

Eighteen Soldiers and noncommissioned officers from around the Virginia National Guard compete in the 2013 Virginia Army National Guard Soldier and NCO of the Year competition March 29-30, 2014, at Fort Pickett, Va. The two-day competition tested the troops in the Army Physical Fitness Test, marksmanship, land navigation, various Army Warrior Tasks and an appearance board. The winners will go on to represent Virginia in the regional competition at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pa. (Photo by Master Sgt. A.J. Coyne, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

Eighteen Soldiers and noncommissioned officers from around the Virginia National Guard compete in the 2013 Virginia Army National Guard Soldier and NCO of the Year competition March 29-30, 2014, at Fort Pickett, Va. The two-day competition tested the troops in the Army Physical Fitness Test, marksmanship, land navigation, various Army Warrior Tasks and an appearance board. The winners will go on to represent Virginia in the regional competition at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pa. (Photo by Master Sgt. A.J. Coyne, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

Horn and Hill agree that the hardest part of the competition was the board.

“There are so many questions that can be asked and I never feel fully prepared,” Horn explained. “Everything has to be perfect, from your physical appearance to your mental knowledge.”

“The board was pretty nerve racking,” Hill said. “The sheer amount of information you need to know is overwhelming.”

Plude said he was proud to have a 276th Soldier bring home the Soldier of the Year title.

“We have been working hard with our Soldiers over the past few years to better ourselves in our Warrior skills to better compete in this annual competition,” he said. “When you meet Spc. Horn for the first time, before you even greet her, she stands out with her demeanor and her crisp movements as she snaps to parade rest. Then when you speak with her she exudes confidence. She is a PT guru which definitely gives her another advantage over many.”

To prepare for the competition, Horn said she remained consistent in the gym to keep her physical fitness up and studied as much Army knowledge as she possibly could and tried to retain it. She also put her uniform together a week before the event and added items to it as needed. In addition she did a land navigation class and course to brush up on those skills.

Hill said he spent “a good amount of time working on PT and studying.”

“I also had an app on my phone to study board questions during work breaks,” he said.

But both Soldiers maintain they didn’t do it alone and couldn’t have done it without the support of their NCOs. Horn singled out her first sergeant, platoon sergeant and squad leader for their support and confidence heading into the state competition.

“Staff Sgt. (Devoe) Coke was my mentor,” Horn added. “He literally got me everything I needed for the competition to where I only needed to focus on myself. He got me into a land navigation class and trained with me on a land navigation course, he also assisted with board preparations.”

Hill mentioned his first sergeant and Master Sgt. Bruce Trask, the 429th operations NCOIC, as two people who helped him grab the title.

“Master Sgt. Trask was instrumental in helping us prepare for the state-level competition,” Hill said. “It was great to have that experience on my side.”

Horn and Hill will now move forward and compete at the regional competition later this year at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pa.

“I appreciate everyone who believed in me and I hope to represent Virginia well at regionals,” Horn said.

“I am confident each of them will represent the Virginia Army National Guard in an exemplary manner,” Holcomb said.

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