Georgia Army National Guardsmen Specialist Rachel Dryden of Columbus and Martinez resident Sgt. James Smith of Milledgeville were selected as Soldier and Noncommissioned Officer of the Year respectively for the 9,000-member Georgia Army National Guard.
The two were honored in ceremonies at the National Guard's Regional Training Institute in Macon on March 13. Both will go on to compete in the active Army's Forces Command Soldier of the Year competition later this year. Should they win in their respective categories, Dryden and Smith will then compete for the Army Soldier and NCO of the Year awards.
Smith is an infantry team leader with Thomaston's Company B, 1st Battalion, 121st Infantry Regiment. A four and a half year veteran of the Georgia Army National Guard, Smith competed with three other Guardsmen for the prestigious title of NCO of the Year.
Smith works full-time as state service scholarships coordinator for Georgia Military College in Milledgeville. In this position, he assists Guardsmen attending the college with their pay and personnel issues. He also acts as a liaison between the Army National Guard and the college in regard to the four-year scholarships the Guard offers through the school.
"I was excited, surprised and humbled all at the same time," Smith said. "The competition has been hard in getting here, and not one person that I've competed with has been less than exceptional.
"I'm not only appreciative of that fact that I was chosen, but I'm also proud of my fellow soldiers for their hard work and for their professionalism throughout the selection process."
Dryden, a nine-year veteran of the National Guard is a paralegal specialist with Newnan's 201st Service and Support Battalion. She was one of four nominees named to compete for Soldier of the Year. In the civilian world, Dryden, who lives in Columbus, is a machine operator with that city's Total Systems Inc.
Competing for Soldier of the Year or NCO of the Year is no easy task, Dryden and Smith agreed.
"And yet when it came down to it," Dryden added, "all the studying and preparation you get at the unit level has paid off."
Besides preparation for the boards there are countless hours of training on basic soldier skills.
"If the soldiers and their units have done their jobs, the individual who compete for the honor of Soldier and NCO of the Year will have no problems," Smith said. "The time and effort you put into this, whether you win or not, is worth it because, I believe, helps make you a better soldier."
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