FORT SILL, Okla., May 3, 2018 — After four days of intense competition in a variety of tasks, one staff sergeant bested seven competitors to take the title of 2018 Fires Center of Excellence and Fort Sill Drill Sergeant of the Year (DSoY) at Vessey Hall auditorium April 27.
Drill Sergeant (Staff Sgt.) Michael Hnat of E Battery, 1st Battalion, 31st Field Artillery, displayed no emotion as he marched front and center to accept his decorative plaque inscripted with the “Drill Sergeant Creed” and a small replica of a drill sergeant.
Hnat will go on to compete in the Army Training and Doctrine Command’s (TRADOC) DSoY competition also held at Fort Sill in August; the date to be determined.
Col. Lee Overby, 434th FA Brigade commander, and his Command Sgt. Maj. Royal Curtis, presided over the event. Prior to the winning announcement, Overby and Curtis presented each competitor with an Army Achievement Medal. The drill sergeants also recited the “Drill Sergeant Creed.”
“These eight outstanding drill sergeants have completed a grueling four-day competition to determine whose performance will allow them to represent Fort Sill,” Curtis said. “In preparation for this competition, drill sergeants had to strictly manage their time in order to train the trainee and prepare themselves for this task.”
Curtis said the competition consisted of tasks that were unknown to them until execution. Those tasks included multiple foot marches for four days with a 55-pound load, taking an Army Physical Fitness Test, properly instructing drill and ceremony, an obstacle course, teaching and executing basic rifle marksmanship, demonstrating proficiency in warrior tasks and battle drills, combatives, and teaching individual movement techniques to trainees.
“They did six events and all of them they had to execute with proficiency,” Curtis said. “Toward the end they had to complete a 12-mile road march followed by a board appearance in front of brigade sergeants major. Congratulations to all these participants for taking part.”
Overby next spoke and thanked visitors for attending the event.
“This brigade is responsible for the processing of bringing in over 17,500 Soldiers annually,” he said. “We will likely see those numbers grow as the Army grows. To successfully transition from civilian to Soldier is only made possible by the 250 or so drill sergeants we currently have in the brigade.”
Before announcing Hnat’s win, Overby introduced last year’s DSoY Sgt. 1st Class James Calfa.
“He performed exceptionally last year as TRADOC’s DSoY at Fort Leonard Wood (Mo.),” Overby said. “His efforts as DSoy have made significant impacts, not only at Fort Sill but also TRADOC. He has briefed countless senior leaders, to include general officers, sergeants major as well as congressmen. Drill Sergeant Calfa is the epitome of a professional noncommissioned officer.
“He is an expert at his craft, takes pride in what he does, and strives to make a positive difference in those around him. I am personally grateful for all he has done for the brigade and what he will continue to do for the Army. The Army recently selected him to be an E-8, and he just found out this week he was selected to take over as first sergeant (of the 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Brigade, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division) later this year.”
Following the ceremony, Hnat shared his sentiments about winning.
‘Today is great, outstanding, definitely a relief off my shoulders; the anticipation all the way to this day has been nerve wracking for the past week,” he said. “None of the competitors knew who won except for the previous (DSoY). It’s been kept very quiet. Now that it’s out, it’s relieving.”
Hnat started his new assignment April 30 with Headquarters and Headquarters Support, 434th FA Brigade. He said he knew he wanted to join the military since high school, as he comes from a military family. He said he’s thinking about applying for the Special Forces.
“My plans are to stay in the Army until I retire, as long as my body holds out,” Hnat said. “The hardest part of the competition for me was mental. The studying part, trying to learn everything and remembering as a drill sergeant, there is a lot of information.”
Hnat said participating in the competition was good way to build camaraderie.
“We all had the same goals and plans to let the best one win and to help them any way we can,” he said. “Some mornings were earlier than others. There was a physical event every morning.”
Hnat, of Youngstown, Ohio, has served nine years in the Army. He attended basic combat and advanced individual training at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., as part of D Company, 795th Military Police Battalion. He said he planned on calling his former drill sergeant April 28 to let him know he’d won the Fort Sill competition.
Other Fort Sill and FCoE DSoY competitors consisted of the following drill sergeants: Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Williams, 1-19th FA; Staff Sgt. Wykeese Nelson, 1-19th FA; Staff Sgt. Ashley McCurdy, 1-19th FA; Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Edwards, 1-40th FA; Staff Sgt. Daniel Youngblood, 1-40th FA; Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Barnhouse, 1-79th FA; and Staff Sgt. Tania Titus, 1-79th FA.
Pictured above: The 434th Field Artillery Brigade command team of Col. Lee Overby and Command Sgt. Maj. Royal Curtis, flank 2018 Drill Sergeant of the Year, Staff Sgt. Michael Hnat, E Battery, 1st Battalion, 31st FA, and present him with a commemorative plaque. Hnat was recognized during a ceremony April 27, 2018, at Vessey Hall on Fort Sill, Okla.