In his three-year Army career, Sgt. Saral Shrestha has seen his share of action.
There was basic training. There was a deployment to Afghanistan. And over four days last year, Shrestha took part in the Army’s Best Warrior Competition, the culmination of many months of competing to become the 2012 U.S. Army Soldier of the Year.
If the physical challenge of the contest wasn’t enough, Shrestha and the other 11 competitors also had to stand before six command sergeant majors and the sergeant major of the Army brass for a lightning-round quiz bowl.
Anything was fair game, Shrestha said, including passages in the noncommissioned officers’ creed, articles in the Army Code of Conduct and field and technical manuals.
“Everything you could imagine,” he said. “I introduced myself and then they just started drilling me. They asked me what’s going on with the NFL, with basketball. They said, ‘You have a name tag on your uniform, what’s the measurement of that?’ I just happened to know those answers.”
The 2011 Bellevue University graduate’s wide knowledge of all things Army resulted in his being named the 11th U.S. Army Soldier of the Year.
“It was about the total soldier concept,” Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III said of the competition. “We stressed them mentally as well as physically. We challenged them on their creative and critical thinking skills while under pressure.”
Shrestha said he measured the accomplishment by the whirlwind it whipped up around him.
“It’s four days long, and I didn’t have five minutes to really stop and think about it,” he said. “It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.”
A native of Katmandu, Nepal, Shrestha said he had always wanted to serve in the military and was set to join the ranks in his native land before his mother insisted he first get an education.
As a 17-year-old, he wound his way to Bellevue in 2006 to work on a bachelor’s degree in computer information science networking.
Just as Shrestha was wrapping up his coursework at Bellevue University on a student visa and without a path to citizenship or permanent residency, the government opened up the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest program, setting Shrestha on a course to become not only a naturalized citizen, but to fulfill his ambition of military service.
Enlisting in the Army in September 2009, Shrestha completed basic training on Nov. 24, 2009, and became a citizen the same day.
After basic combat training and advanced individual training, Shrestha was assigned to the 3rd Special Forces Group at Fort Bragg, N.C. in April 2010. He was deployed to Afghanistan from March 2011 to August 2011.
“I worked mainly with generators and vehicles,” he said. “Basically, anything that moves, I’m working on it.”
An ability with languages was also put to good use.
In addition to his native tongues — Nepali and Newari — Shrestha speaks Urdu, a major language in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and Hindi, the most widely spoken language in India. And he’s also fluent in English — right down to his flat Midwestern accent.
“People think I should talk with a different accent,” he said. “But I always say, ‘I’m from Nebraska. What do you want me to sound like?’”
Shrestha said a wide support system kept him going through the Soldier of the Year competition. His wife, Elisha, was a major part of that support.
“I kept telling him he was going to win,” Elisha Shrestha said. “I’m really proud of him.”