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Bunker Hill, W.Va. man is Guard Soldier of the Year

October 30, 2007|By DAVE McMILLION

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Out of 350,000 people serving in the National Guard, Spc. Erik Nowak was the best.

He's hauled 35 pounds of equipment on his back over 10 miles of road and was loaded down with 70 pounds of gear on another nearly six-mile hike.

The Bunker Hill, W.Va., man also had to excel in combat water survival, weapons training and complete tasks with minimal sleep.

Nowak, 27, competed in a nationwide National Guard competition earlier this year and his proficiency was enough to get him selected as the 2007 U.S. Army National Guard Soldier of the Year.

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Nowak, a member of the 157th Military Police Co. in Martinsburg, was honored Monday for his performance by U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.

Capito, who met up with Nowak in a military recruiting office at Martinsburg Mall, presented Nowak with a U.S. flag that was flown over the nation's capitol. Capito also gave Nowak documents showing how his performance was recorded in the Congressional record.

"This is part of our national history," Capito said.

The Soldier of the Year honor, which was given to Nowak Aug. 15, followed competitions this summer that were spread over several locations, including Fort Benning, Ga., and Oklahoma City. After being named Soldier of the Year, Nowak went on to compete in the U.S. Army's "Best Warrior" competition, although that honor went to another man.

During the competitions, Nowak said he competed in land navigation, shooting, hostage and Humvee rollover contests.

Nowak said one of the toughest competitions was a 10-mile road march where he had to carry 35 pounds of gear. He had to make the march after being awake for 21 hours.

"I had pretty bad blisters and cramps," Nowak said.

Nowak said he grew up in Bunker Hill and graduated as valedictorian in 1998 from Musselman High School. Nowak graduated from Virginia Tech in 2002 with a degree in horticulture and has worked as a substitute teacher at Martinsburg North Middle School, where he met his wife, Krista.

In January, Nowak said he plans to start officers training school at Fort Benning.

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