Soldier defeats odds to become USARJ Soldier of the Year
TORII STATION, Okinawa -- The Army simply defines resiliency as having the ability to "hunt for the good stuff" and bounce back from a significant emotional event to overcome a situation or crisis. It's something to which Spc. Mara E. Snowman, a euphonium player with the U.S. Army Japan Band, can relate.
"I'm a very hard worker, hard on myself at times," said Snowman. "Overall I have high expectations for myself and think stress is OK, but you never want to be distressed."
It was the first day of this year's USARJ Warrior Competition Challenge on Okinawa and Snowman said she was feeling pretty good about her efforts in pursuit of becoming USARJ's Soldier of the Year. After scoring a 298 on the Army Physical Fitness test, things were looking good for the Cleveland, Tenn., native.
As Snowman prepared to board a bus for the warrior battle drills, event organizers delivered a message that she said changed her life forever. Snowman's grandmother, Jilbert Snowman, whom she considered her best friend, mentor and the family rock, had passed away the night before.
"It was really hard; it really was a sudden moment for me and I decided to let it motivate me to do better," said Snowman, holding back tears. "I knew what my grandmother wanted me to accomplish."
Snowman said she relied on thoughts of the good times and special moments she shared with her grandmother to push herself to continue in the competition. On day three she was tested again during the urban orienteering event. The event is similar to land navigation but requires participants to locate land navigation points in an urban area on nearby Kadena Air Base.
Snowman became lost trying to locate a point which should have been a mile or two beyond the starting point. She ended up on the opposite side of Kadena's flight line, which was more than double the distance from the point's location.
"In addition to disappointing myself, I also felt that I was letting Grandma down and needed to do better," said Snowman.
And it was that resiliency throughout the remaining warrior challenges Snowman said helped her overcome her personal hurdles and the tough competition to be selected as USARJ's Soldier of the Year.
At the closing ceremonies, Snowman said she decided to join the Army last year after graduating from Middle Tennessee State University with a bachelor's degree in music.
"Joining the military, I knew I wanted to strive to be the best by working hard and training, but I could not imagine being here at this moment," said Snowman. "I knew I had to put my best foot forward and dedicate my efforts to achieve success for my grandmother."
Snowman said she is honored to represent USARJ in the upcoming U.S. Army Pacific Warrior Challenge in June.
"I know it will be a hard challenge but I will give my best effort," said Snowman.
And one thing Snowman said she will definitely carry to the competition in Hawaii next month is the memory of her late grandmother.
"[There is] one thing I learned from her [that] has stayed with me since childhood," said Snowman. "My grandmother would tell us to laugh at yourself, keep a warm smile on your face and always have a positive attitude. I know she's watching me from heaven."