101st Airborne Paratrooper Named Army Soldier of the Year, Medic Wins NCO Award

Soldier of the Year, Top NCO

Spc. Samuel Alvarez, an infantryman with the 101st Airborne, was named the Army Soldier of the Year on Monday, Oct. 10, 2022. Sgt. Garrett Paulson was named the Army Noncommissioned Officer of the Year. US Army photo by Sgt. Henry Villarama. Photo by Matt White/Coffee or Die Magazine. Composite by Coffee or Die Magazine.

US Army photo by Sgt. Henry Villarama. Photo by Matt White/Coffee or Die Magazine. Composite by Coffee or Die Magazine.

Spc. Nathan Wallen, an Army Ranger, said he wasn’t surprised that his friend Samuel Alvarez had been named 2022 Army Soldier of the Year.

The two met at the Ranger Assessment and Selection Program, a first step soldiers have to take to attend Ranger School. They met again in early October 2022 as Wallen and four fellow Rangers from 1st Ranger Battalion won the Army’s Best Squad Competition. But even as he and his fellow Rangers won the grueling team events, he wasn’t surprised to see Alvarez emerge as the contest’s top competitor.

“He’s the guy I’ve been chasing my whole career,” Wallen said Monday, Oct. 10. “At Ranger Assessment and Selection, he was the guy.”

Alvarez, a rifleman with the 101st Airborne Division, was named the Soldier of the Year at the annual Association of the US Army meeting in Washington, DC, after setting himself apart during the weeklong competition held at Fort Bragg in the first week of October.

soldier of the year

Spc. Samuel Alvarez of the 101st Airborne, representing US Army Forces Command, participates in a board while competing in the 2022 Best Squad Competition at the Pentagon Library and Conference Center in Arlington, Virginia, Friday, Oct. 7, 2022. US Army photo by Sgt. Henry Villarama.

US Army photo by Sgt. Henry Villarama.

Sgt. Garrett Paulson, a combat medic at Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital at Fort Polk, Louisiana, and a former 82nd Airborne paratrooper, was named the Army Noncommissioned Officer of the Year. Paulson was the team leader for the Best Squad team from Medical Command.

Wallen’s team of five Rangers was named Best Squad.

All awards were announced by Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael Grinston on Monday in Washington, DC.

Alvarez, 20, grew up playing soccer in Indiana and joined the Army, he said, “to do something fun.”

Alvarez turned in what was probably the most talked about performance of the contest, knocking out a 12-mile ruck march with pack and full gear in 2 hours and 11 minutes.

Paulson, the winner of the NCO award, said that performance was an eye-opener. “That’s fast,” Paulson said. The ruck event included a mental trick that added to its stress, Paulson said. “We started when it was dark, so the leg going one way seemed like it was uphill, and then, on the way back, the sun was up, so it looked like it was uphill.”

soldier of the year, top NCO

Sgt. Garrett Paulson, combat medical specialist and noncommissioned officer in charge of the Patient Centered Medical Home at Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital, poses with awards and coins earned during the Regional Health Command-Central and US Army Medical Command competitions he won in April and June 2022. US Army photo by Jean Graves.

US Army photo by Jean Graves.

Paulson was an 82nd Airborne paratrooper for four years before joining the clinical staff at Fort Polk, where he works at the primary care clinic. He was able to join the MEDCOM team only when another competitor dropped out.

“I was in my first sergeant and sergeant major’s office, and I was like, ‘I know I can win at region,’” Paulson said. “I won there, then went on to [the Medical Command-wide contest] and won there, and a week before I came here, I promised him I would win here. I didn’t believe it as much. I believed the first two, but this was the first one where I was like, ‘I might be lying right now, but I’ll do what I can.’”

Paulson said the Medical Command team was disappointed not to advance as one of the four top teams.

“Even the NCO award doesn’t happen without the squad,” Paulson said. “In years past, you were evaluated by yourself, as far as being an NCO. But this, it wouldn’t have happened without my guys being moldable and receptive to information and willing to follow me.”

Like several teams, the Medical Command team took members from different units, though three of the soldiers had specific ties. The squad’s leader, Sgt. 1st Class Timothy McCoole, recently completed a tour as an Advanced Infantry Training drill instructor in which two of the team’s junior soldiers, Sgt. Paulo Dasilva and Sgt. Conner Crisafi, were his students.

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Matt White is a senior editor for Coffee or Die Magazine. He was a Pararescueman in the Air Force and the Alaska Air National Guard for eight years and has more than a decade of experience in daily and magazine journalism. He also teaches journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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