March 25, 2011

The very models of modern Maine soldiers

NORRIDGEWOCK -- In the mornings before class in high school, Bryant Lorette woke up early to help serve coffee and scrambled eggs to customers at his mother's restaurant on Main Street.

His father rose early, too -- at 4 or 5 a.m. -- to haul wood across the state for his own trucking company.

It was his family's work ethic, Lorette said, that prepared him for a series of competitions that recently earned him the award of Maine Army National Guard Soldier of the Year.

Sgt. Joshua Way from Waterville received the award in the noncommissioned officer category.

"I grew up in a very hard-working family," Lorette said. "I want to follow my mom's footsteps and open my own business one day."

Pfc. Lorette, 20, a reservist with the 185th Engineer Company in Caribou, is a relative newcomer to the National Guard, having enlisted in May 2009 after his first year of college at the University of Maine, where he is studying construction management.

Way, 24, of the 11th Civil Support Team in Waterville, won the National Guard Noncommissioned Officer of the Year award. Noncommissioned officers oversee enlisted soldiers and usually reach their position by being promoted from the lower ranks.

After a total of three competitions testing their physical fitness and military knowledge over the last six months, last week the two became the top performers within all the state's battalions.

Way joined the National Guard in 2003, when he was a junior in high school in Houlton. He's been deployed to Iraq twice -- in 2006 and 2007 -- with the Bravo Company of Brewer; his current job is with the weapons of mass destruction unit. He and his wife Heather have two children, Joshua, 5, and Mia, 1.

"Obviously I was happy" to win the competition for noncommissioned officers, Way said in a phone interview, as he is out of state for training. "I'm looking forward to competing at the regional level, to represent the state of Maine."

Command Sgt. Major Terrence Harris, the highest ranking enlisted soldier in Maine's National Guard, credited the three soldiers and four noncommissioned officers who made it to the state competition: "They had to put so much time and effort in just to be there. Quite commendable."

Both Lorette and Way will now proceed to the regional and then possibly the national competition.

Lorette wanted to enter the military as soon as he graduated from Skowhegan Area High School, he said, but he's currently a sophomore in college -- thanks to his mother, Laura, a Norridgewock selectwoman and owner of the restaurant What's For Supper.

His father, George, runs Lorette Trucking. His younger siblings are Anna, 16; Percy, 12; and Forrest, 10.

"I really wanted to see Bryant in school first and then do military after," Laura said. "But it's pretty obvious he's doing exactly what he wants to do. He's happy with that decision, and I'm very proud of him."

Lorette took off his 2009-10 school year to attend basic training in Kentucky, advanced individual training in Missouri to be a heavy construction equipment operator, and then school in Georgia to learn how to parachute.

He plans to stay in the National Guard after he graduates. "I see myself being in the National Guard for as long as I can be, honestly. It's definitely something I really enjoy," he said.

It wasn't long after he finished his training that his unit selected him to enter the annual competition. Both he and Way won at their company level in the fall and then the battalion level this winter, which sent them to the state competition, held at a training facility at Fort Indiantown Gap, Penn., beginning Tuesday, March 15.

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