FORT HOOD, Texas – Growing up, his dream was to be a United States soldier. So even after two hip surgeries only months apart, Army Sgt. 1st Class Oscar Ayala, a platoon sergeant assigned to 1st Cavalry Division’s Company D, 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, “Ironhorse,” 1st Brigade Combat Team, still manages to outperform his soldiers.
“I always wanted to be a soldier,” Ayala said. “When I was in high school, I told my recruiter I wanted to join the Army. I didn’t ask for anything. I just joined.”
Ayala, a native of Kearny, N.J., enlisted as a tanker in the National Guard in 1999. After a year and a half, he switched to active duty.
Serving as a platoon sergeant is special to Ayala.
“I never pictured myself being in the position I am in now,” he said. “I mean, I am just one of many at my position, but going back to my childhood, I never thought I would have this impact on other soldiers, or even [noncommissioned officers].”
After converting to active duty, Ayala was stationed at Fort Lewis, Wash., where he stayed for two years before moving to here. Since then, he has been deployed four times in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation New Dawn and, in his most recent deployment in Kuwait, Operation Spartan Shield.
Although he has deployed numerous times, Ayala said, he has not let it affect his attitude toward the Army.
“I know I have younger soldiers looking up to me,” he said. “I have to show my soldiers that even though we go through tough times, we are still soldiers, and that’s what we get paid to do. We have to get the mission accomplished whether we are going through good or bad times.”
One of Ayala’s soldiers, Army Spc. Sam Garcia, said he can look to Ayala for guidance and leadership.
“[Ayala] has always been approachable,” Garcia said about his respected mentor. “He’s [seasoned], and I know I can count on him to help me when I need him most.”
Ayala sustained a hip injury during his 2006-2008 Iraq deployment. During his check-up, problems were found in both hips, resulting in a dual surgery -- the first in April 2011 and the second following less than two months later.
Even with the surgeries and the pain, Ayala said, his motivation hasn’t wavered.
“I am still motivated, probably a little more,” he said. “I learned to ignore the majority of the pain. Whether I am injured or not, I still go up there and lead my guys.”
Ayala still receives a perfect score of 300 on his physical fitness test, consisting of pushups, situps and a two-mile run.
“I feel as though I set the bar for my platoon,” he said. “If I can do it, they can, too. A lot of my guys see me trying and they get behind me. It keeps me and them motivated.”
Ayala was the tank commander of the Ironhorse tank team that participated in the prestigious Sullivan Cup, a competition testing tankers’ skills across the Army. He was one of only two competitors to earn a perfect score of 300 in the fitness test portion of the competition.
“It made me feel that although I am on the older side of the competitors, that age is just a number,” Ayala said. “It’s all in how you maintain yourself.”
His wife of 25 years, Katherine, also is aware of his self-motivation, he said.
“[She] keeps telling me to slow down on the physical side of work, exercising and such,” Ayala said with a chuckle. “But I remind her I am a leader, and I can’t lead my soldiers from the rear. She understands and is very supportive of my choices.”
With everything that has happened, Ayala said, having a supportive wife has helped him push through his obstacles.
“It’s a little bit hard,” he said. “But like I tell my guys, even though we go through tough times, I am a soldier.”