Budgets Cuts Force Army’s Soldier Contest to Switch to Video

Mike O'Brien

Budget cuts have affected every aspect of military life – but the show must go on, including the U.S. Army’s annual soldier of the year contest.

This year, however, instead of half a dozen finalists converging on Fort Eustis, the contest is being held on video at bases across the country in order to save money.

The competition got underway this week with judges in a conference room in Joint Base Langley-Eustis, where the Army's Training and Doctrine Command is based, assessing the soldiers’ appearance on camera.

Board interviews are being conducted on Wednesday via video- teleconference and the winner is expected to be announced on Thursday.

Traditionally, soldiers would compete against other in person over four or five days, with a physical fitness test, land navigation, a written exam and a 12-mile march.

Sgt. Maj. Jerry Taylor told the Associated Press: "Would it be better to have them here in person? I really do believe that it would be. But we couldn't afford to do that, so this is the next best thing."

Command Sgt. Maj. Daniel Dailey believes this year's new format will likely continue in the future as the Army continues to cut costs.

But he stressed that the contest benefits the entire command, not just the winning soldier.

He told AP: "Everybody knows that sequestration is here and we've got to save money. The program builds inspiration, esprit de corps with the units, the drive for soldiers to want to be the best. Will the Army function without it? I'm sure it will. Will the Army be better with it? Absolutely."