Four months' worth of weekend soldiering didn't make Army boot camp a breeze, but it did allow Spc. Luke Hargrove to take a nap while others fumbled with maps.
Training staff at the Chattanooga National Guard Armory recognized Hargrove and other soldiers Sunday who'd recently returned from boot camp and job training.
Since 2006, nearly 500 Tennessee Army National Guard soldiers have gone through the local Recruit Sustainment Program before shipping off to boot camp, said Master Sgt. Kevin Hudgins, head of the program's Chattanooga branch.
Hargrove is the program's 24th distinguished graduate of his helicopter engine repair school. For that performance, the Army bestowed its Army Achievement Medal.
The Warren County native's long-term goal is to become a helicopter pilot.
Soon he'll begin weekend drills in Alcoa, Tenn., with a detachment of the 230th Sustainment Brigade, much of which is now deployed to Kuwait.
The 30-year-old soldier said he saw immediate results in boot camp from his pre-training in land navigation, military customs and other areas to his advantage.
When in the field plotting points with a map and compass, he finished his assignment two hours ahead of the rest of the soldiers. The drill sergeants didn't know what to do with him, so he got a rest.
"That was the only nap I got in boot camp," Hargrove said.
His name is now etched on a plaque that hangs in the armory hallway noting local soldiers who've reached the same goal.
"We don't just achieve standards here; we exceed them," said Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Tipton.
Tipton stood on a stage at the armory Saturday addressing a huddle of 40 soldiers. Lined up before him were Hargrove and five other recent graduates, facing the group.
"Pick their brains," he said. "These are the people you want to ask about the training you're about to receive."
Hudgins said the program began as a nationwide Guard initiative to better prepare recruits for the rigors of military life. Since most people who join the Guard will serve with a local unit, they can train immediately at that site.
Guard recruits go through the same boot camp as active-duty and reserve Army recruits.
But most active-duty recruits don't have the established infrastructure for training, uniforms and preparation before they head off to serve.
The staff, most of whom have been in the Guard for a decade or more, can teach the new recruits the basics, but training changes so they also rely on returning graduates to update them on new training developments, he said.
Hudgins said he's learning that drill sergeants are spotting Guard recruits with the pre-training and putting them into leadership positions immediately.
Coupled with the distinguished graduates on his hallway plaque, Hudgins said the training is proving its worth consistently.