Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Army Soldier of the Year mentors All-American players

Army Sgt. David Obray (left) speaks to the six finalists for the U.S. Army All-American Bowl Player of the Year award during a press conference here Jan. 1. Obray, the U.S. Army Soldier of the Year, mentored the players during the All-American Bowl activities. His focus was to show each player how to apply the character strengths of a U.S. Army Soldier to a successful football career. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Robert R. Ramon, 345th Public Affairs Detachment)

Sgt. 1st. Class Robert R. Ramon
345th Public Affairs Detachment

SAN ANTONIO — “Army Strong!” These words epitomize today’s American Soldier. The U.S. Army’s might is certainly evident through its powerful weapons and military technology; however, its true strength lies within the heart of each and every Soldier. This strength makes the U.S. Army the greatest land force on earth.

During the U.S. Army All-American Bowl activities here Jan. 1, elite high school football players learned first-hand how to apply the “Army Strong” brand of strength to their sport. The U.S. Army Soldier of the Year, Sgt. David Obray, proved to be the perfect mentor.

“To excel and get to this level in your careers, you’ve displayed a lot of mental, physical and emotional strength,” Obray said to the top-ranked high school football players in the nation. “These are the same strengths that make our Soldiers ‘Army Strong.’”

Each player listened intently as Obray explained the similarities between the All-American football player and the U.S. Army Soldier.

“Each of us has the collective strength of the support of our community, the strength of having strong values at our side and the strength of the excellent training we’ve received,” said Obray. “Without this strength we wouldn’t be able to successfully accomplish our missions.”

Obray, a heavy equipment operator with the Army Reserve’s 492nd Engineer Company, 416th Engineer Command, Darien, Ill., was named the U.S. Army’s Soldier of the Year last October after a weeklong competition among the Army’s 12 major commands. His win is historic since he is the first Reserve Soldier to earn the prestigious title.
Obray’s dramatic journey to earning the title was especially intriguing to the players and his fellow Soldiers alike.

“Five years ago, I weighed over 300 pounds,” said Obray of his life before the Army. “When my brother came back from basic training, there was just something about him; something he carried with him,” he said, referring to his older brother Christopher who joined the Army in 2001.

Obray, a native of Fairmont, Minn., made the decision to join the Army after Christopher returned from a tour in Afghanistan in 2004. He then dedicated himself to meeting the physical standards required to achieve his dream of becoming a Soldier.

“My brother came back from Afghanistan in phenomenal shape and began to work with me,” said Obray. “He gave me the added motivation and the knowledge of how to properly train physically.”

After much sweat and hard work, Obray met the requirements and embarked on the life-changing event of becoming a Soldier.

“The Army was the fulcrum,” said Obray. “My life completely turned around. I became the student body president at my college, my grade-point average improved and I gained a new confidence. I know that I really can do anything and I’m in better shape physically, mentally and emotionally.”

Instilled with a new and powerful confidence, Obray quickly set his sites on becoming the U.S. Army’s top Soldier. He credits his fellow Soldiers, whom he calls, “teammates” with his success in the competition.

“The 2008 [U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command] NCO of the Year, Sergeant First Class Brian Eisch, trained with me everyday for about two months,” said Obray. “I went to Fort McCoy, Wisconsin and many active duty Soldiers there helped me; it didn’t matter to them whether I was Reserve or active duty, all they saw was that a Soldier is here to get trained.”

According to Obray, the Army Values were essential to his success.

“Because of my Army experience, I know what it’s like to compete and everything you must have gone through to get to where you are today,” Obray said to the players. “I ask that you all adopt the seven Army Values, loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor and integrity both on and off the field throughout your careers.”

Xavier Nixon, a top-ranked offensive lineman from Fayetteville, NC, knew first-hand of the Army values since both his parents have careers in the U.S. Army.
“My parents are my heroes because of the values they’ve taught me,” said Nixon of his parents Master Sgt. Fotini Nixon and Command Sgt. Maj. Kenneth Nixon, Sr. “It’s because of the Army that I’ve learned to apply these values to my life.”

Each player, as they strive for successful careers in college and possibly professional football, seemed to take Obray’s advice to heart.

“I ask that you adopt the Army values in your lives,” said Obray, pausing to look each player in the eyes. “They’ve helped me tremendously in my life and I’m sure they’ll do the same for you.”