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07 December 2012

Naturalized Citizen SGT Saral K. Shrestha Earns Soldier of the Year Honors

Born and raised in Kathmandu, Nepal, SGT Saral K. Shrestha knew he wanted a military career from the time he was a small boy. Watching shows about the military on television, he dreamed of life as a soldier. As a young man, Shrestha's mother urged him to pursue higher education in the United States. At age 17, he applied for a visa and left his home to study in a new land.

"It was a culture shock, it's always rush, rush, rush," Shrestha said about his first time being in the United States. "You're working or studying the whole time. There were a lot of tall buildings, a lot of new things. Everything is surprising, so you stop being surprised."

After spending his first month with an uncle in Philadelphia, Shrestha headed to Nebraska to begin his studies in computer networking. Still, he dreamed of joining the military and embarking on a life of service and discipline, but it seemed impossible.

"MAVNI Was a Blessing"   

Though Shrestha wished to serve in the U.S. military, he initially had no avenue to join without U.S. citizenship or permanent residence. That changed in 2009 when the Department of Defense introduced the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) program. MAVNI allows visa holders with special, highly needed skills - such as having expertise in languages that are critical to military operations - to enlist in the military and earn U.S. citizenship through their service.

Shrestha was close to completing his degree when he found out about the program, but he didn't hesitate to sign-up. After being screened by USCIS and completing the recruitment process, he headed to Fort Benning for basic training in September 2009.

"MAVNI was a blessing," Shrestha said. "When I graduated my basic training, I had one of the USCIS personnel come onto the field with a United States flag and I took my oath." Shrestha considers it the most special day of his life. "I realized I was part of something way bigger," he said.

From Special Forces to Afghanistan to Soldier of the Year

While training as a specialized Power Generation Equipment Repairer at Fort Lee, Va., a recruiter with the 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) approached Shrestha, who was then a private. The recruiter knew about his ability to speak Urdu, a language common in Afghanistan and spoken in Pakistan. "He talked me into it, got me excited and motivated," Shrestha said.

In 2011, Shrestha was deployed to Afghanistan and traveled all around the country, including to some of the most remote forward operating bases. He used his language skills to communicate with Afghani locals and Afghani friendly forces working with the U.S. Army. Shrestha worked long hours to keep the U.S. bases supplied with power and fuel, but still found time late-night to complete his college degree.

When Shrestha returned to the U.S., life turned to "garrison mode." This meant staying prepared, sharp, and in-shape. Shrestha also saw the opportunity to take part in competitions for "best soldier." "I tried my best and became my company's top soldier," he said. "The competitions have steps, and it gets tougher as you move up a level. You move from brigade level, to sub-command, to Special Operations Command, to the Army-wide competition."

Shrestha won at the local levels of the competition, and went on to compete against other soldiers at the command level of the competition.

SGT Saral Shrestha (right) is declared the hand-to-hand combat winner in a lower-level Soldier of the Year competition at Fort Bragg, NC.

He then competed in the final round, the Best Warrior Competition, which he described as a five-day "Super Bowl for the Army."

The Best Warrior Competition included events such as the Army Physical Fitness Test, day land navigation, urban night land navigation and shooting. A selection board, headed by the Sergeant Major of the Army, judged the competitors. Shrestha said this invoked pride. The winner was announced at the Association of the United States Army's military convention in Washington, D.C.

When he heard his name called as U.S. Army Soldier of the Year, Shrestha said he was shocked. "I didn't know how to react, it was a big moment," he said.

GEN Raymond Odierno, Chief of Staff of the Army, welcomed SGT Saral Shrestha to his office at the Pentagon and presented him with an award for his recent win at the Best Warrior Competition.

Looking back at his journey from Nepal to the United States and his service to his new country, Shrestha stresses that his accomplishments would not have been possible without support from family, friends, trainers and comrades.

SGT Saral Shrestha and his wife Elisha celebrate the Soldier of the Year victory with his uncle, Purushottam Kuthu.

He remembers how his family would call him from Nepal and remind him that he was in their prayers. "A lot of people help you, it's never just about you," he said. Shrestha said that he tries to always live and serve by his motto: "Mission first, soldiers always."

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At December 7, 2012 at 10:21:00 PM EST , Blogger JulieNYC said...

What an incredible and inspiring story! Congratulations SGT Saral K. Shrestha!

At December 8, 2012 at 3:18:00 AM EST , Blogger nmuna said...

Congratulations Sgt Shrestha!!! We, MAVNI applicants, are very proud of you, so is the US Army. I recently got enlisted into the US Army and will be shipping in March of next year. Thanks again for raising the bar high for the MAVNI program. You victory is a testament to the establishment of the MAVNI program! God bless you and your family.

At December 9, 2012 at 3:59:00 AM EST , Anonymous Icahbanjarmasin said...

Really I like motto "MISSION FIRST,SOLDIER ALWASYS" it's my favorite..thanks my friend I am from INDONESIA.

At December 9, 2012 at 4:21:00 PM EST , Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a fantastic story, and what a great accomplishment. Sgt. Srestha! And, congratulations for your citizenship. I can't help but get a few tears every time I hear the Oath, and I did it again reading about your naturalization when you graduated from BT. Your fellow soldiers are fortunate to have you on their team. Best wishes for even more success in the future.

Howard Hudson, Eugene, Oregon

At December 18, 2012 at 3:32:00 PM EST , Anonymous Mukul said...

SGT Saral K. Shrestha, you are an inspiration to many. We all come to USA in search of better life for ourselves and our family. But only very few choose to give back to this wonderful country and its people. Hats off to you!

At March 22, 2013 at 10:02:00 AM EDT , Anonymous Elvis said...

Not the kind of story you hear everyday... Congratulations to you my friend. At the same time, we must really praise the USA for their appreciation and encouragement of people from all walks of life. There are many countries - even so called developed ones - where your efforts or heroics don't get you a second glance. Therefore it is a great credit to the American people who will always encourage ANYBODY to be the best they can and RECOGNIZE them for their accomplishments. There is no better reason to work hard and be patriotic than that.

At April 9, 2013 at 9:58:00 AM EDT , Anonymous Manuel - Alarmas Seguridad said...

Congratulations, it's a story of overcoming, perseverance and discipline. It serves as an example for many other young people who have a project in your life and want to overcome every day.

At May 10, 2013 at 6:01:00 PM EDT , Anonymous Sagar said...

Today's youth and other people should really learn and inspire from it. This is really something too goodI have read !

At August 26, 2013 at 2:06:00 PM EDT , Anonymous Suman said...

Congratulation Sgt Shrestha! Being a Nepali myself, I am proud of your achievement and I wish all the best for your future endeavors.

At September 11, 2013 at 1:35:00 PM EDT , Anonymous Military1 said...

Great testament and truly inspirational. Wish there was more of this type of story in society!

At November 7, 2013 at 4:48:00 PM EST , Anonymous Jack said...

very good inspiration. Thanks for this great job

At November 10, 2013 at 1:50:00 AM EST , Anonymous jerry c. said...

A lot of respect for that guy. He gives a lot of motivation.
And of course, thank you for the post. we need more of those to read.

At January 30, 2014 at 12:21:00 PM EST , Anonymous Valena said...

Great Congratulation Sgt Shrestha! Being a Nepali myself, I am proud of your achievement and I wish all the best for your future endeavors.

At March 8, 2014 at 1:43:00 PM EST , Anonymous PRMC Guy said...

I think our UK royal Marines would do well to follow in these footsteps more often. Very similar to the Ghurkas


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