From about the time he turned 11, David Faris knew he'd be a soldier someday. Now, Army Spc. Faris met a new goal: He was named the Multi-National Corps-Iraq Soldier of the Year.
"I was ecstatic," Faris said in a telephone interview from Iraq. "It's a big honor to compete and to represent my unit and surpass their expectations was a huge deal."
Faris, the son of Indian Land High School Principal Kathy Faris and Rhea Faris, a park supervisor in Rock Hill, has been stationed in Iraq since November 2006 as part of the Counter-Improvised Explosive Device Unit. His days are spent gathering intelligence on roadside bombs -- where they are being made, what type of bomb they are, and, most importantly, who is making them.
"Initially, you feel like you're in that TV show '24,' like you're in a cool spy movie and do cool things and see cool info, but at the same time, you do it for over a year, it becomes second nature," Faris said. "It ends up becoming your job, and you just take pride in doing what you are doing and knowing that you're saving lives."
To be eligible for Soldier of the Year, Faris had to win the Soldier of the Month competition and Soldier of the Quarter.
Unit winners at each level compete against winners from other units. Faris won the competition for his unit and the corps, but his mission in Iraq made it impossible to continue through to the Army-wide competition, he said. The final round includes soldiers stationed in the United States and overseas. For soldiers such as Faris, duty commitments sometimes mean further competition is prohibitive.
Faris joined the Army in 2005 and re-enlisted while deployed. He plans for the military to be his career, he said, and thinks becoming Soldier of the Year will help him with future promotions.
Since winning the award, Faris has been promoted to sergeant, his father said.
During the competition, Faris had to demonstrate knowledge of his weapon, abilities to use his protective mask, land navigation and physical training. He also was questioned by a panel of senior non-commissioned officers.
Kathy Faris said she remembers fondly that when she moved to Indian Land last year, she found letters written by her son to Army recruiters.
To have him win Soldier of the Year, she said, was incredible.
"It is huge," she said. "He believes in what he's doing, and I can honestly say I'm just so proud of him. I'm proud of all our men and women over there."
His dad agrees. "I'm very excited for him. We come from a background of being in the military," Rhea Faris said.
During the holidays, when most families were unwrapping gifts and sharing a Christmas feast, David Faris was hard at work in Iraq, uncovering clues in the construction of roadside bombs and helping to keep his fellow soldiers safe.
"There is a war going on here, and the war doesn't stop for Christmas," he said.