Soldier of the Year
Spc. Benjamin Weston, a linguist with the 66th MI Group, was named INSCOM’s Soldier of the Year. (photo by Jennifer Clampet)
Sitting in his office in Wiesbaden, Germany, Spc. Benjamin Weston doesn’t get too many opportunities to use his land navigation or combatives skills.
Instead, the 29-year-old Russian linguist, who is assigned to the 1st Military Intelligence Battalion, 66th MI Brigade, refers to his ears and his headphones as his weapons. While every Soldier is a warrior, Weston knows the job he’s been counted on to perform.
In the summer of 2010, Weston was grilled alongside the best and brightest the U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command has to offer in a grueling weeklong competition designed to test the most basic of soldiering skills.
At the end of the competition, Weston was the proverbial last-man standing – earning the title of INSCOM’s Soldier of the Year.
“Spc. Weston is obviously a stellar Soldier,” said Command Sgt. Maj. David Little, of the 1st MI Battalion, 66th MI Brigade. “His leadership traits already set him apart from his peers, as demonstrated in the way in which he conducts his day-to-day mission. He holds a position normally reserved for a staff sergeant. His drive, determination and humility carry over into all that he does. I have no doubt that he is a certain senior noncommissioned officer in the making.”
And what did he learn from the competition that included everything from low crawling in 100-degree heat to competing in a combatives – the Army’s answer to mixed martial arts – tournament?
No matter the setting, the hours or the mission, for Weston being an Army Soldier means being a warrior first and foremost. So while he doesn’t get the opportunity to use many basic Soldier skills on a day-to-day basis, Weston relishes the opportunity to participate in competitions like this.
Initially though, Weston joined the Army because, in his words, he was looking to build a career off his Russian language skills when he discovered the military.
“The Army gives me a good foundation,” said the 2006 Brigham Young University graduate. With a bachelor’s degree in Russian language, Weston wanted a real job using his skills.
“It’s not the most employable skill,” admitted Weston who first took temporary jobs working with the Russian immigrant population in Sacramento, Calif.
But with a fascination in the Russian culture and language stemming from two years as a Christian missionary in the Ukraine, Weston said he couldn’t think of anything else he wanted to do. He wanted a career as a Russian linguist.
“I had no idea what to expect when I came here,” Weston said of his first duty station with the 66th MI Brigade. “But it’s exciting supporting the troops downrange.”
The tool of speaking foreign languages is proving to be essential in providing support for deployed troops, with the 66th MI Brigade providing support for operations in Afghanistan and other locations around the globe.
Weston’s current mission doesn’t require the use of his Russian language skills. But as he works toward becoming a noncommissioned officer, Weston says he would like to work for the Defense Threat Reduction Agency – an agency responsible for inspections related to arms treaties.
The military opened a whole range of possibilities, said Weston.
Weston has never romanticized his intentions for joining the military. His reasons were two-fold: family and career. The father of two said the Army provides him and his family a significant level of security.
“The Army definitely takes care of my family. We’re not rich, but we’re definitely taken care of,” said Weston.
But that security and support also grew into pride. And when Weston’s 3-year-old son looks up at his father, he doesn’t likely see a linguist.
“(My son) sees the physical side (of his father’s profession),” said Weston who added his son even has a Soldier’s haircut.
Two years into his Army career, Weston said he recognizes that a Soldier needs to be multi-faceted.
“I need to be a Soldier, not just a linguist,” he said. “I can deploy and do things that a regular linguist can’t do … I stand for the Army values with dedication and discipline to be a linguist fighting in America’s conflicts.”
Weston called the INSCOM competition a humbling experience. He competed in tests of physical fitness, land navigation, writing skills, weapons and combatives. The events were concentrated on the fundamentals, said Weston, from combat skills to life-saving first aid.
“It was all soldiering skills,” he said of the competition. “Stuff we (linguists) don’t usually do.”
Weston said the competition was exhausting, and he was surprised to have won. Competing with a group of Soldiers who were all highly motivated made the event an enjoyable experience, said Weston. From the events, he realized the strengths of being a Soldier in the U.S. Army.
“I get to wear the (American) flag to work instead of a tie,” said Weston. “I’m not just sitting doing transcriptions in civilian clothes. I’m definitely a Soldier first.
“As a linguist, my ears are my weapons. It’s really how I fight. I fight with my headphones. It’s definitely powerful to be a Soldier linguist,” he said.