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Ashton native wins Illinois Soldier of the Year competition

DIXON Army Spc. Troy Mairs is becoming accustomed to filling tall orders. The 21-year-old Ashton native, standing at 6 feet 6 inches tall, recently won the state’s Soldier of the Year designation after competing 4 days and nights at the Illinois National Guard s Marseilles Training Center. He dominated 10 of 11 events, including a physical fitness test, obstacle course, crisis reaction scenario, night navigation course, 10-mile march carrying a 40-pound rucksack, written test, and a board review he described as “the most intense job interview you’ve ever had.”

The day navigation course was the sole event in which he didn’t land first place; he ranked second behind a soldier who makes maps.

Mairs, who became head of security at Sauk Valley Community College about a year ago, competed against three others chosen from a pool of nearly 10,000 soldiers in the state National Guard through platoon, company and battalion-level boards to compete as Illinois Best Warriors. The April 6 event was Mairs’ fourth competition on the state level.

“I m thankful for the opportunity to even compete at the level and thankful to be there,” he said. “It was humbling.”

His family and friends said Mairs is too humble, and they knew he would leave the competition with the title.

“He s a stud; no one had any doubt in him,” said Brayden Everly, a security officer at Sauk and friend of Mairs. Mairs’ sister, Kimberlee McClanahan, 24, said competition always has been a passion of his, whether it’s a game of ping pong or beating his personal best at the shooting range.

“He wanted to be in the military since he was 8 years old,” she said. “Now, it s real life for him, and he s excelling at it like we all knew he would.”

He joined the Army in 2014 and is a specialist in Company E, 1st Battalion, 106th Aviation Regiment based in Peoria.

“There s always been this sense of patriotism I ve had since I was a kid,” Mairs said. “When I would look at people in uniform, I always had respect for them, and I hope it’s something I can pass to others.”

His mom, Michelle, teaches second grade at Tilton Elementary School in Rochelle, and his dad, Dave, is a pastor at Calvary Lighthouse Church, also in Rochelle. His younger brother, Adam, 19, is studying agronomy at Joliet Junior College, and McClanahan is a financial assistance adviser at Sauk. The college hosted a reception Monday honoring Mairs with a red, white and blue cake adorned with plastic army men.

Sauk President Dave Hellmich said Mairs is one of the college’s many “Sauk successes.” In addition to working at the college, Mairs is earning his associate degree in business management as well as studying criminal justice.

“We’re very proud of him,” Hellmich said. “He’s a wonderful young man, and we expect him to win nationals.”

Before reaching the national competition, Mairs will need to best the regional Midwest event on May 8 at Camp Dodge in Johnston, Iowa. He underwent a pretty hefty training routine both physical and mental leading up to the competition by going to the gym or running track every day and compiling a 60-page study guide filled with military know-how. His family received an escort onto the Marseilles base to see the awards ceremony, and McClanahan said they stuck out with their civilian attire in a sea of uniforms.

“We’re really proud of him and how he has grown,” she said. “This is his niche; this is where he belongs.”

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