Fort Polk soldier wins U.S. Army Noncommissioned Officer of the Year

Published 11:24 am Friday, October 28, 2022

FORT POLK — Sgt. Garrett Paulson, combat medic from Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital, returns to the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk as the U.S. Army Noncommissioned Officer of the Year following the inaugural Best Squad Competition at Fort Bragg, N.C.

The week-long competition assessed each squad on technical and tactical proficiencies, ability to work as a disciplined and cohesive team, as well as their performance in a multitude of fitness, combat and weapons qualification lanes and scenarios. Afterwards the top four teams traveled to Washington, D.C., to conduct board-style interviews that tested their knowledge and professionalism in front of top Army leaders.

Paulson attributes his success to his unit leadership, his Best Squad team and the opportunities afforded to him while stationed at JRTC and Fort Polk. Paulson said there were 12 teams, consisting of five soldiers each. He said going into the competitions at the regional and major command level he didn’t initially know this was also a Soldier and NCO of the Year event.

“During the Best Squad Competition, we were graded individually and as a team on every event,” he said. “The difference between this year’s Soldier and NCO of the Year and previous years is that they all came in by themselves. They didn’t have a team. They were graded on Soldier tasks, battle drills and individual fitness. Everything was based on what they could do by themselves. This year the squad element not only focused on what we could do as individuals but how do our teams react to that? How do you keep your teams motivated throughout the competition? It was interesting.”

Paulson said his team was always at the forefront of his mind and motivation going into the competition.

“I wanted to win at MEDCOM and move on to the Army Competition for them,” he said. “Two weeks before the competition at Fort Bragg I was digging for the internal motivation and mental intensity to compete at the Army level. I had personal motivators for the regional and MEDCOM competitions; first for my family, next for the team and a personal grudge about moving beyond my past.”

Paulson said in the beginning he had something to prove to himself. By the time he got to the Army competition he was there as part of a team, with nothing to prove. He said it was all about putting everything out there to get top four.

Sgt. Conner Crisafi, combat medic, Evans Army Community Hospital in Fort Carson, Colo., was a member of the U.S. Army Medical Command Best Squad team with Paulson.

“Sgt. Paulson is the best teammate a Soldier could ask for, he is someone I can always count on,” he said. “If I’m having any issues at all he is there for me. When I started these competitions, I was a specialist, now I am an NCO and Sgt. Paulson is who I emulate. Sgt. Paulson is a great leader, teammate and friend.”

Crisafi said Paulson deserves to be the NCO of the Year.

“In my opinion, Sgt. Paulson is the best of the best,” he said. “He was always able to provide “hip pocket training” on the things he learned throughout his career,” he said. “He always upheld all the Army Values, and embodied leadership attributes, competencies, and the NCO Creed. During all the competitions and hard days of training he always kept our team’s morale high.”

Paulson said his team was unique because they were comprised of Soldiers from across MEDCOM.

“The majority of the teams we competed against were organic to one unit. We are in an interesting position,” he said. “It would have been extremely challenging to put together a group of five people from one military treatment facility logistically. And, the impact on patient care would have been detrimental to our mission.”

Paulson said his success is a direct reflection on his team and their ability to come together successfully.

Spc. Callen Workman, orthopedic technician, Kenner Army Health Clinic, Fort Lee, Virginia, was a member of the MEDCOM Best Squad Team and said Paulson is the best NCO he’s ever worked with.

“I can’t think of anyone else who is a better representation of what it means to be an NCO and the Army NCO of the Year,” he said. “Training and competing with him as my team leader was my favorite experience in the army so far. He’s shown us all how to communicate and execute effectively under stressful and complicated conditions.”

Workman said Paulson’s confidence never wavered.

“As a junior enlisted member of the team, he helped me learn what I could bring to the table,” he said. “He showed the utmost respect to all of us while doing it. He knows what he’s doing and far outperformed his competition.”

Paulson said he believes his team was the top team out there.

“I truly believe we were a top four team,” he said. “Our team was great and I think everyone underestimated the MEDCOM team. Barring an injury, I think we could have won it all. Even the Soldier who was injured won the junior enlisted marksmanship award for the entire competition.”

Paulson said BJACH and JRTC and Fort Polk prioritize training, readiness, and opportunities for Soldiers to excel.

“I think being stationed at the JRTC and Fort Polk gave me the platform to succeed,” he said. “BJACH and MEDCOM specifically gave me the opportunity.”

Paulson said the competition helped his team prepare for what a combat medic is required to do outside of a hospital setting.

“The scenarios we encountered required us to be technical and tactical experts,” he said. “Three of the five of us had only ever served in a hospital. The competition highlights that 68Ws (Army combat medical specialists) are much more versatile than we are often given credit for.”

Paulson said he wanted to rally his fellow Soldiers at BJACH.

“I promised everyone at BJACH that I was going to win,” he said. “I didn’t know what I was going to win, but I told them I wasn’t coming back without at least one big win, for them, the hospital and for MEDCOM.”

Paulson said he couldn’t have done it without the support of his unit.

“There were so many people involved, who supported me throughout this competition. From the commander and command sergeant major to some of our most junior Soldiers who supported me whether they realized it or not,” he said. “Others had to pick up the slack while I was off training and competing. I want them to see that Fort Polk offers the best training environment that I’ve ever seen. The number of schools and training they are willing to send you to, if you want it, is unreal. I was hoping people could see me and know they can pursue these opportunities and that our unit will support it.”

Paulson said based on talking to others throughout the competition and across the Army there is no better place than JRTC and Fort Polk for Soldiers to build their resume and enhance their careers.

Sgt. 1st Class Timothy McCoole, senior enlisted advisor to the deputy commander of nursing at Reynolds Army Health Clinic, Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and member of the MEDCOM team said the best squad competition with Paulson was the highlight of his career.

“When I first met Sgt. Paulson after the regional competition, he knew deep inside that he was going to go all the way,” he said. “He would tell us he was competing to win it all. I believe that confidence helped the team realize what we were capable of and helped us win at MEDCOM and give 100% at the Department of the Army level. Besides his determination to succeed, he deserves this title, NCO of the Year, because he truly is a great NCO. He’s a very confident, competent and caring NCO that accomplishes his mission and has the welfare of his squad as a priority. He took every opportunity he could to train our squad and improve the team.”

McCoole said he learned a lot from Sgt. Paulson.

“I’ve been in the clinical setting for a few years now and my tactical skills weren’t as good as Sgt. Paulson’s,” he said. “As the squad leader, I would rely on his expertise for those situations. He taught me what determination and proper preparation can achieve and has inspired me. I hope to stay friends with Sgt. Paulson after all of this is done.”

Paulson said he is unsure exactly what his future holds as the NCO of the Year.

“I know I’m going to be a little busy,” he said. “I know there are plans being made. I don’t want to guess at what that is, but I am excited.”

Paulson said he doesn’t know what it means for his career.

“For me, personally, I’m going to look for my next mountain,” he said. “I think when you accomplish something this significant you will lose all momentum if you don’t shift quickly to something else. I am shifting quickly to the Expert Field Medical Badge, then I might slow down a little for the holidays, and hopefully by then will know what the Army has instore for me.”

Paulson said he wants to help others and he wants to share his experiences to anyone who will listen.

“With all of the engagements I’ll be doing over the next few months, on some pretty large platforms, I’m going to take the opportunity to talk about mental health stuff,” he said. “Your defining moments aren’t generally your darkest moments. They aren’t around forever, and once you work through it there is almost always something better on the other side.”

Paulson said he is at peace with his past.

He said teamwork and leadership are what the Army is all about.

“You’ve got to be able to rely on the people around you and trust that they have your best interests in mind,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of good conversations with a lot of senior members of the military since winning NCO of the Year that may have reenergized my focus. There are things I can do as an NCO that will positively affect Soldiers lives and careers that I can’t do if I follow the plan I was considering before I earned this prestigious honor.”