Falls Church, Va. – Sgt. Garrett Paulson, a combat medic at Bayne Jones Army Community Hospital at Fort Polk, Louisiana, is the first Army Medicine Soldier to be named the Army’s Noncommissioned Officer (NCO) of the Year. He won the honor in October after competing in the Army’s Inaugural Best Squad Competition.

Paulson has only been in the Army since 2017. He credits his family with the decision to join the Army. Both his parents are prior enlisted Soldiers and their support has been crucial to Paulson’s resiliency and success. He joined the Army at a time when he didn’t feel as though he had a clear focus for the future.

“I couldn’t think of a better place to go than the military,” he said.

His sister and brother-in-law also serve as officers in the Air Force. “Their service, as well as the service of my many extended relatives to the U.S. military played a heavy hand in my decision to enlist. I never thought of it as a family tradition until I joined and realized the service to the country my family has had. Now I have hope that one day my children may serve, in any capacity.”

Before becoming a part of Army Medicine, Paulson was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division upon deciding his next re-enlistment options… “I hadn’t had any experience with Army Medicine and served all my time with the 82nd Airborne Division when that window opened. I had a few friends who joined Army Medicine units after AIT (Advanced Individual Training), and after reaching out to them I made the call to my career counselor and told them that I would re-enlist for a medical assignment.”

“If you’re thinking about joining Army Medicine for any reason, wanting a change in pace, to broaden your scope as a Medic – go for it. Make the call to your career counselor and push for it. I think my experience is a great example of what Army Medicine can do for your career,” said Paulson.

When Paulson is asked about his profession as a combat medic the word rewarding comes up many times. “I think being a combat medic is extremely rewarding, especially when embedded with operational units; you build an extremely close bond with the platoon or company you are charged with keeping ready. You get the opportunity to learn as much as you get the opportunity to teach in that environment. One day you may teach Combat Life Saver, the next you’re learning how a Weapons Squad operates from a deliberate fighting position, or how to clear rooms with a team-sized element,” said Paulson.

He added, “Combat medics are truly amongst the most versatile and able Soldiers in the force. We can’t get by with only being good at our job – we must be incredibly well rounded and able to perform the jobs around us as well.”

Paulson’s strategy entering these competitions was to be physically in the best shape of his life. “I decided I needed to change something about what I was doing every day,” he said. He decided to devote time every day to the gym. “It was something I could control every aspect of: I decided how hard I wanted to push, how long I wanted to stay, and no one had any dictation of that time outside of myself.”

“There was no special training, I simply got off the couch every day. I started going four times a week, for an hour at a time. By the time I was leaving Fort Polk to go to the Best Squad competition I was in the gym six days a week, oftentimes for longer than two hours. I took the mindset that no one was going to outwork me before the competition.”

“My team knew I was putting that much work in as well, so during the competitions when it was time to do heavy lifting they knew that I would deliver. I wanted them to know upfront that there was at least one thing they could depend on me for coming in, and that was physicality and drive.”

Regarding the future, “I’m not sure what’s next for me after my time with Bayne Jones Army Community Hospital at Fort Polk is over. There are so many opportunities available to me, that it gets quite overwhelming to think about sometimes. I may explore a broadening assignment or position within Army Medicine that interests me. Possibly work for a Medical Readiness Command Sergeant Major (CSM) or command team at the Region or Division level.”

The Army Medicine Pivot to Readiness has become the focus for ensuring a medically ready Army and a ready medical force to support deployments. Paulson defines readiness as “our ability as Soldiers, as providers, to fight and win our nation’s wars.”

“It’s a Soldiers ability to execute tasks within, and sometimes above their designated skill level without being told to,” he said. “It is the unit’s ability to deploy with short notice and execute the mission given to them by higher echelons of command. Readiness is everything Soldiers should be doing, every day. Going to the gym in their off time to improve physical fitness, visiting Army Wellness Centers to improve their understanding of how their body works.”

Paulson credits his time with the 82nd Airborne and the support of his Army Medicine first sergeant and CSM with helping him prepare for the competition.

“I was only supposed to be in the Army for four years to “rebuild my confidence,” he said. “Going into the final competition I hadn’t given a ton of thought to what winning the NCO of the Year would mean to myself, to Army Medicine, my family, or anyone really,” said Paulson.

“Once it was announced and I was able to collect myself and it took off like a bullet–interviews, engagement planning, congratulatory handshakes, and photos. It was incredible. The first thing that stuck out to me was when the very first NCO of the Year approached me after the ceremony. I didn’t know it was him at the time. He shook my hand and said, ‘This is the award of all awards in the Army. This will be with you forever, and it will mean just as much in twenty years as it does today’. He had won the title 20 years prior, so there has to be some truth to that.”


This piece is written by Maura Fitch from the U.S. Army Medical Command. Want to feature your story? Reach out to us at [email protected].