By Air Force Master Sgt. Mike R. Smith
Special to American Forces Press Service
ARLINGTON, Va., Oct. 14, 2008 – A Montana National Guard noncommissioned officer, recently named as the Army National Guard’s NCO of the Year and the Army’s Warrior of the Year, said the best warrior is the one who knows when he needs help.
Staff Sgt. Michael Noyce Merino, honored Oct. 6 at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual meeting and exposition in Washington, credits free counseling sessions he received through Military OneSource with helping him cope with stresses that accumulated during combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“That really helped me,” Noyce Merino said.
Noyce Merino won the Army Guard’s final competition in mid-August at Fort Benning, Ga. That achievement allowed him to match his skill and knowledge against 12 soldiers representing the Army’s other major commands for a final Best Warrior competition at Fort Lee, Va., Sept. 30 to Oct. 3. He won the Army’s competition to his great surprise, he said.
“I’m equally proud of winning [both competitions],” Noyce Merino said. “They were both difficult in their own way.”
Noyce Merino explained that the Guard’s competition was physical with its 12-mile road march and land navigation events. In contrast, the Best Warrior competition challenged his marksmanship and ability to think under pressure.
“We’re fortunate to have all those soldiers – regardless of component – compete,” Lt. Gen. Clyde Vaughn, director of the Army National Guard, said. “Those are the best of the best. It’s a big moment for the Guard, and it’s also a big moment for the Army.”
Noyce Merino joined the Guard after his release from active duty in 2007 and returned to his family’s 21,000-acre cattle ranch in Montana. He also works as a shipping supervisor for United Parcel Service, and he praised that company for its support of his service.
“Now that we have settled down on the ranch, we hope to start a family,” he said. “Right now, we are building the operation and developing a functioning [cattle] business.”
Noyce Merino was home-schooled and grew up on the ranch. “It’s what I knew and loved until I joined the [active duty] Army,” he said.
His 2001 active-duty enlistment took him immediately to battlefields in Afghanistan. “I was in basic training when the 9/11 attacks happened,” he said. “So right away, I knew I was going into combat.”
He attended airborne school, was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division, and deployed for six months. He returned home only to deploy to Iraq for eight months.
“After that, I re-enlisted into the 4th Infantry Division at Fort Hood [in Texas],” he said. He returned to Iraq for an additional 12 months.
On one patrol, Noyce Merino used his combat lifesaver skills to apply two tourniquets to a fellow soldier after a mortar attack in Baghdad. “He had extensive shrapnel wounds and arterial bleeding in both legs, and was going in and out of consciousness,” he said. The patrol transported the soldier to an aid station within nine minutes and helped to save his life.
During the recent Best Warrior competition, Noyce Merino said, he faced a similar medical scenario that required treating a wounded leg.
“Those who had not been in that situation saw what it was like to treat a casualty under fire,” he said. He added that the competition simulated battlefield conditions well. “The Army and the Guard should do as much of that as they possibly can.”
Though he’s proud to have been honored, Noyce Merino said he’s just one of many deserving soldiers.
“I don’t consider myself to be the best,” he said. “There are a lot of soldiers and sergeants right now who are deployed, who are serving, and their duty prevents them from competing. I’m more of a representative of all NCOs and all soldiers in the Army. I’m an example of what it takes to be one of the best.”
(U.S. Army photo/Staff Sgt. Jon Soucy)