Career counselors play a vital role in the decision-making process for Soldiers who have the desire to continue their military service. With the mission to retain quality Soldiers in the Army, their influence can be the deciding factor on whether or not some of the nation’s best Soldiers reenlist.

Twelve of the Army’s brightest career counselors were selected to compete in the 2012 U.S. Army Forces Command Active Component and Reserve Component Career Counselor of the Year competition at Fort Bragg, Sept. 25 and 26. Each Soldier, between the ranks of staff sergeant and sergeant first class, was selected by their respective command to participate in the event.

The first day of the competition began with the counselors taking the Army Physical Fitness Test. This was followed by a tour of the Airborne and Special Operations Museum in Fayetteville and capped with a 50-question written exam to test their technical proficiency.

“The written exam was pretty brutal,” said Sgt. 1st Class Jason L. Glover, the career counselor for the 261st Medical Battalion, 44th Medical Brigade, XVIII Airborne Corps, and the active component winner for the competition. “We were asked some very, very specific questions that you really have to be the subject matter expert at your job in order to know. And even then, they were so very detailed that I had to know exactly where they were so that I could go double check in the regulations to make sure there hadn’t been any changes.”

Each competitor, eight from the active component and four from the Reserve component, was judged by a selection board presided by the FORSCOM sergeant major and other career counselors on day two of the event. The competitors were assessed on appearance, military bearing, oral expression and conversational skills.

“The board was very challenging,” said Sgt. 1st Class John P. Lyons, a Reserve component career counselor with 10 months experience in the field and the winner for the Reserves. “It’s my first year and I am very new to the program. I never expected to be where I am right now, so it feels wonderful.”

Competitors at the event expressed their commitment to Soldiers and helping them succeed. Sgt. 1st Class Abram B. Moreno, a native of Superior, Ariz., said career counselors are at the frontline to help Soldiers make important decisions about their careers.

“I chose to be a career counselor to help Soldiers. I’ve always had the passion and desire to help Soldiers and being a career counselor is the easiest way to do that,” said Moreno, a 19-year Army veteran.

“The most important part of my job is taking care of Soldiers,” said Glover, a native of Tyler, Texas, and a 14-year veteran. “Career counselors are an integral part of the Army, specifically in our battalions, because of the amount of subject matter expertise that we bring to that particular area. There is only one career counselor per battalion so we have to be able to counsel and advise all commanders, senior leaders and Soldiers in that unit.”

“Every single day I get to impact the life, career and Family of at least one Soldier,” said Lyons, a Milwaukee native. We have a tremendous responsibility as career counselors managing Soldiers’ careers and that’s really the best part for me.”

Master Sgt. Mark A. Carter, a career counselor with 13 years of experience, was Moreno’s sponsor and a strong advocate for the competition. He said he was happy to be able to attend the event and be in a career field that looks at both the needs of the Army and the needs of each Soldier before deciding the path that best serves both.

“It’s a good feeling for me to be that coach and mentor and give something back to the Soldiers who are coming up behind me,” said Carter, a native of Los Angeles. “It’s a clear choice now. If you want to serve, then you need to get with your career counselor and make informed decisions. It doesn’t matter what you are doing every day, it doesn’t matter where you serve, because all those things change. What doesn’t change is you’re wearing this uniform that says U.S. Army on the chest and that you are in service of our nation and that means something.”

The winners in this year’s competition will go on to compete in the Secretary of the Army’s career counselor competition in January.