Spc. Marcus Fichtl
8th Military Police Brigade Public Affairs
8th Theater Sustainment Command
SCHOFIELD BARRACKS — Ask U.S. Army-Pacific’s Soldier of the Year, Pfc. Jose Figueroa, what set him above his competition, he wouldn’t tell you. Instead, he would show you.
Defined by a quiet professionalism, Figueroa, an equipment parts and record specialist from the 536th Support Maintenance Company, 524th Combat Sustainment Spt. Battalion, 45th Sust. Brigade, 8th Theater Sust. Command, outpaced his competitors in the Army physical fitness test, demonstrated superior knowledge during warrior tasks, and displayed unmatched confidence in the Army boards.
Figueroa has an “awe, shucks” personality with the fight of a tiger. However, when you break through Figueroa’s modesty and humbleness, you learn he’s focused on never taking anything for granted.
“I get my drive from all my lost time. I’m trying to catch up,” Figueroa said. “I put off joining the Army for a while,” he continued “I didn’t join till I was 23, six years after high school.”
While other young Soldiers played video games and took their first baby steps into the real world, Figueroa was providing for a family of five and watching the first baby steps of his two daughters and son.
And as Figueroa plays catch-up in the Army experience, taking care of his family has created a personal foundation his competitors could only look at in awe as they stumbled with the Army field manuals on duty and leadership.
Figueroa’s path to the Army Soldier of the Year competition almost never happened.
That’s where Figueroa’s champion, his noncommissioned officer, Sgt. Gaualofa Fuga, 536th Spt. Maint. Co, stepped in.
“They were kicking out Soldiers on the first day of the brigade competition because they had too many competitors. … And parts of the packet we didn’t know about were missing,” Fuga said. “But we hustled, and I looked at Fig and said, ‘Do you think I’m going to let them kick you out?’”
From there, an unbreakable bond formed.
While Figueroa kept his family at ease with late-night phone calls from the barracks, Fuga was his family in the field, providing his meals and supplying him with support.
“She (Fuga) was there whenever I needed her,” Figueroa said.
Fuga said she didn’t force Figueroa to do this competition — he asked her, and she jumped on the opportunity to be his sponsor.
“I always saw him as one of the elite Soldiers, regardless of if he was in this competition or not,” she said.
Fuga gave Figueroa one single mantra to follow during the competition: Make this time count.
And Figueroa did. He not only played catch up, he passed his peers.
But what is Figueroa — a family man with drive, a role model to all ranks, a Soldier chasing a dream?
He won’t tell you that, but if you watch him, he can show you.