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Soldier of the Year Competition: Bemidjian to vie for top military honor

U.S. Army Spc. Jessica Morley of Bemidji will begin competing on Thursday in the 10-day Soldier of the Year contest at Schofield Barracks, Oahu, Hawaii. Submitted Photo

U.S. Army Spc. Jessica Morley, a medical laboratory specialist at the U.S. Army Research Institute for Environmental Medicine in Natick, Mass., will take a 10-day trip to Hawaii beginning Thursday.

But she won't be surfing or sunning on the beach.

Morley, a 1998 Bemidji High School graduate and Bemidji State University environmental science graduate, will represent Medical Research and Materiel Command at the Army Medical Command Soldier of the Year competition at Schofield Barracks, Oahu.

"You begin the process by winning your unit's Soldier of the Quarter board," she said in an e-mail. "Then your unit has a Soldier of the Year competition."

John Harlow, U.S. Army Public Affairs officer, said in a telephone interview from Natick if Morley wins at the MRCM level against 20 soldiers, she will compete Army-wide in September at Fort Lee, Va.

Some of the tasks Morley could be asked to compete throughout the eight-hour to 16-hour days March 12-20 include zeroing in an M16 or M4 rifle and qualifying with that rifle shooting as many popup targets as possible with 40 bullets. She said she qualified March 7 hitting 39 of 40 shots. She also will take part in quick-fire shooting and hand-to-hand combat.

Harlow said in the hand-to-hand, Marley has been practicing against soldiers bigger than she is because she expects to be fighting male competitors well above her weight class.

"When you're in a wartime situation, you don't have a choice of who you fight," she said in a telephone interview from her lab in Natick.

Other tasks likely to be in the contest include night and day navigation, casualty evaluation and evacuation, first-aid survival tactics and multiple choice and oral exams on military knowledge.

"They make it as realistic as possible," Harlow said. "They want them (competitors) to think on their feet. They're told to study everything. It's a big honor to be able to go to one of these competitions."

Morley, who is the daughter of Colleen and Arthur Kliniske of Bemidji, said if she wins, she will receive an award, points toward promotion and, possibly, a few days of leave.

"I'm not actually that competitive," she said. "I like to challenge myself."

In addition to her work as a lab technician testing soldiers in an altitude chamber for mountain combat, such as in Afghanistan, Morley is president of the Natick Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers, which gives soldiers who live in the barracks outlets for community service and leisure activities to maintain morale and well-being. They spent last weekend at a Massachusetts ski resort.

Morley joined the Army July 6, 2007, and is an active-duty soldier. She said she hasn't yet decided whether to make the Army a 20-year career.

But she said many people have helped her prepare for the Soldier of the Year competition.

"It is fantastic to have such a big chain of support that is behind me and helping me throughout the way," she said.