As a finalist for the prestigious Sergeant Audie Murphy Award, there isn’t much that fazes Sgt. 1st Class Kara Wait.
A former combat medic who served in Iraq, Wait is ready to do pushups, run, study and do whatever it takes to earn the honor. There is, however, one qualification that has her worried: singing.
Every finalist for the award has to belt out “Shutters and Boards” by Audie Murphy, an old country song about a regretted divorce. And they can’t mess up a single word.
“It’s horrible,” said Wait, who lives in Newman Lake and is stationed in Spokane.
The Sergeant Audie Murphy Award is presented to one noncommissioned officer from a major Army command each year in the form of a medallion. It is named after Murphy, who was awarded the Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, two Silver Stars, two Bronze Stars and three Purple Hearts. He was considered one of the most decorated soldiers to serve in World War II. After the war, Murphy became an actor and songwriter.
There are a series of steps Wait has had to go through to make it to the final round. Wait, who leads a medical recruitment center for the Army, said she first had to be recommended by her command at various levels. Thousands of people apply each year.
Wait was initially unable to participate in the physical fitness portion of the test when she applied for the award two years ago because she had recently undergone some hip surgeries. She reapplied as soon as she was able.
Application and testing procedures have been rigorous. In April, Wait had to go before a command board in New York and recite Audie Murphy’s biography before they quizzed her extensively on details of Murphy’s life, from how many people he killed to what his song titles were. She had to show that she has volunteered and had a positive impact on the communities she worked in as well.
After other contestants were weeded out, she moved on to the next level in Las Vegas, where she went through a similar process. She also had to take a physical fitness test involving pushups, situps and a 2-mile run. About 20 to 30 people from the group in Las Vegas were selected to be finalists for the award.
Preparing for these trips is no easy task: Wait said she tries to spend an hour a day on weekdays and four hours a day on weekends to train and study for the award.
“I’ve embraced it as a part of who I am,” she said.
She also said her time overseas has helped prepare her. In 2010, the Army deployed her to Iraq to work as a combat medic on an elite trauma surgical team. The team had to quickly assemble and disassemble to go places and perform emergency surgeries. Wait became more resilient and used to working under pressure – qualities judges look for when selecting the recipient of the award. She also saw how real Murphy’s struggles were, she said.
For as long as Wait, 36, has been an adult, the military has been a part of her life. She joined the Army her senior year of high school, about 18 years ago. She worked as a civilian phlebotomist and lab technician for 12 1/2 years in her hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin, before transitioning to recruiting. She’s been working at a recruiter for six years and as a recruitment center leader for one. Wait has a bachelor’s degree in leadership and is pursuing her master’s in science and leadership.
Capt. Bruce Barnes, one of Wait’s supervisors, said she has “impeccable character” and all the traits Murphy had.
“She’s strong-willed, a great (noncommissioned officer), takes care of her people,” he said. “They only accept the best.”
Wait said she has a good chance of receiving the award based on performance so far.
She’ll finish the last test at Fort Knox in Kentucky in August and then be notified if she won the award later that month. If she receives it, she will go back to Fort Knox for a formal induction ceremony to celebrate.
“It’s labeled as a prestigious award,” she said. “And it feels that way.”
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