Competition prepares Soldier of the Year for deployment

By Spc. Alan Royalty, 101st Main Command Post-Operational Detachment

State Command Sgt. Maj. David Munden presents Pfc. Catherine Zembrodt with the 2018 Kentucky National Guard Soldier of the Year trophy following the Best Warrior Competition in Greenville, Ky., Oct. 28, 2017. Zembrodt is assigned to the Main Command Post – Operational Detachment, 101st Airborne Division and is preparing for her first deployment in 2018. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Spc. Nasir Stoner)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Freezing rain, a grueling 12-mile ruck march and intense obstacle courses are just a few of the many trials Pfc. Catherine Zembrodt endured during a four-day competition before she was awarded the title of 2018 Kentucky National Guard Soldier of the Year.

Zembrodt, a native of Northern Kentucky and assigned to the Main Command Post Operational Detachment (MCPOD), 101st Airborne Division, earned the highly coveted title on Oct. 28 during the Best Warrior Competition (BWC) at the Wendell H. Ford Regional Training Center in Greenville, Kentucky. She is the third female Soldier to win the title.

Zembrodt decided to join the Army while she was enrolled at Northern Kentucky University (NKU), becoming the only member of her immediate family to have ever served in the military, and garners her strength from her family and fellow soldiers which she also did during the BWC.

“Through the competition, I competed with the best soldiers in the state and I couldn’t have completed it without them,” Zembrodt said. “It was truly an incredible experience.”

After being nominated as a candidate for Soldier of the Year, Zembrodt diligently studied her warrior tasks and drills handbook, weapon disassembly and reassembly and other Soldier tasks to ensure she was fully prepared for the potential upcoming challenge.

“Every night I would study bit by bit, so that just in case I did end up getting selected for the competition I would be ready for it,” said Zembrodt.

It turns out that Zembrodt was preparing long before the topic of Soldier of the Year came up.

Physical fitness had already been an integral part of Zembrodt’s life, as she competed as a runner during her time at NKU, and is slated to receive her Bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science in December.

The track and field star continues to volunteer her time as an assistant coach for her high school’s team. She credits her commitment to physical fitness to her success.

“I did a lot of PT—a lot of PT leading up to the competition,” she added.

After winning the competition Zembrodt returned to her unit with ecstatic approval and a warm reception, just like she received before beginning the competition.

“I love being in the MCPOD. Everyone has been super supportive and offered their congratulations,” said Zembrodt. “I couldn’t ask for better people to be around.”

Zembrodt’s success resonated throughout the Louisville-based MCPOD, and her success told a story of rugged perseverance that is greatly respected among her peers.

“I think that her success shows that we are willing to go to the full extent to do whatever we need to do to get the job done,” said Pfc. Jayden Bailey.

Bailey, Zembrodt’s fellow soldier in the MCPOD, served as a primary confidant and good friend to Zembrodt throughout the process of her becoming soldier of the year. Unlike Zembrodt, Bailey was not surprised with her friend’s success.

“I wasn’t surprised at all,” Bailey said. “I knew she could do it all the way through.”

Even more importantly, Zembrodt’s platoon leader was impressed with her success.

1st Lt. Aundreas Lopez, a transportation officer and platoon leader for the MCPOD, spoke highly of Zembrodt’s success and feels it represents the capabilities of Soldiers within the MCPOD as they look forward to an upcoming deployment.

“Zembrodt’s success gets everyone in the right mindset, especially prior to deploying -which is good,” said Lopez. “A lot of these [Soldiers] are new to the military, so they’re pretty excited to see what unfolds.”

The MCPOD is slated to deploy in 2018, which will be many of the Soldiers’ first deployment, including Zembrodt and Lopez. Zembrodt, especially understood the value of her journey, rather than the destination throughout the competition and relating to deploying.

“More than anything, it was such a great learning experience for me mentally, there was a lot of sacrifices I had to make, and you just have to be in the right mindset through that entire process,” Zembrodt said. “It helped me realize that when we do get deployed, I’m going to have to do the same thing by putting myself in the right mindset.”

“We foster a good environment in regards to physical fitness, remaining healthy and displaying the Army attributes of leadership, so this win says a lot about us all,” Lopez said.