FORT LEE, Va. – A Kenner Army Health Clinic combat medic here earned the title of Regional Health Command-Atlantic Soldier of the Year First Runner-up during the organization’s 2018 Best Warrior Competition at Fort Stewart, Ga., March 25-28.

Sgt. Jason Melnik, a staff member in the Pediatric Clinic, was among the 15 junior Soldiers from health activities across RHC-A’s area of operation participating in the event. Each of the competitors had already won Soldier of the Year titles at their assigned installations. Melnik competed as an Army specialist and was promoted to sergeant upon his return to Fort Lee.

The four-day RHC-A meet was fraught with challenging mental and physical activities, according to the Soldier. The physical portion included a 12-mile ruck march, obstacle course, stress shoot, day and night land navigation, medical trauma lanes, an urban warfare simulation and an assortment of other Warrior Tasks and Battle Drills. The mental components included a board appearance, mock media interviews and written exams.

Melnik reflected on one particular day that started with a 3:30 a.m. wake-up call and falling out for a 12-mile ruck march, with each participant carrying between 35-40 pounds of gear and traversing sand and gravel for much of the course. That was followed by a trip to the range until 9 p.m. and then a multiple-choice test. Typically, the ruck march occurs the last day of the competition, but it was moved up this year, which made each subsequent event that much more demanding.

“When taking the test at the end of it, they were dimming the lights to see if we would fall asleep,” said Melnik. “It was just one way they were testing our determination and abilities.”

Sgt. Maj. George Harwick, Kenner SGM, had a chance to watch Melnik during the obstacle challenge. “I was so impressed because he made it look so easy,” he said. “He is a great representation of Kenner and being Army ready.”

“I’m not going to lie – this competition is rough,” Melnik admitted, “and it’s not easy to maintain one’s will to compete. It gets inside your head; that urge to say ‘I don’t want to do this anymore.’ Eventually, though, you come in from the field and realize what you accomplished and how some of it was kind of fun. Then, you’re saying to yourself, ‘I would gladly do it again.’

“You always meet awesome people on these trips,” he further observed. “They are people who are always pushing themselves – the high-speed Soldiers. The little time we had to ourselves, we shared information and talked about options for Army careers. You get to learn a lot at these challenges.”

As the RHC-A Soldier of the Year Runner-Up, Melnik would represent the agency if the overall winner – Spc. Cody Shedd, Lyster Army Health Clinic, Fort Rucker, Ala. – is not able to compete at Army Medical Command Best Warrior this summer at Camp Bullis, Texas. Also schedule to compete at that level is RHC-A Noncommissioned Officer of the Year winner, Staff Sgt. Chase Johnson, McDonald Army Health Center, Fort Eustis.

Melnik, 21, said the best warrior experience is indicative of his outlook on life – taking every opportunity to challenge himself and seek out new adventures. Having “done the Army thing,” he said he’ll likely move on to other career pursuits in the near future.

“I like the Army; I’m good at it,” he said, “but I know there are other things out there for me. Even though I signed up for this when I enlisted, I now realize I don’t want to stay in medicine. What I hope to do next is get a lineman apprenticeship where I would go out and work on powerlines. It’s another opportunity to travel and see where life takes me.”