2018 Soldier of the Year
Sergeant First Class Wolfgang McLachlan
Six years into his career as an airborne infantryman, Sgt. 1st Class Wolfgang McLachlan was faced with a choice: Thanks to a jump injury, he either had to pack it in or start over in a job that wasn’t so hard on his body.
It was a no-brainer, he said. McLachlan, 42, who joined the Army in 2004 to test himself during a time of war, decided to roll the dice and see where he ended up.
The veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan found himself reinvented, as a satellite communication systems operator-maintainer with 1st Space Brigade at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado.
There, he made a big impression on his unit, translating his background as a youth counselor into his approach as a noncommissioned officer, volunteering to take care of his soldiers in unconventional ways.
He would have his soldiers over for a monthly potluck, and he stepped up as a command sexual harassment/assault response coordinator and victim advocate. He also answered the hotline for the Kill2 Vet Suicide Prevention program, and volunteered at the Downhome Colorado Homeless Shelter and the National Junior Honor Society.
“It’s an opportunity for people to feel like they belong not just to an organization, but a family,” McLachlan said about spending time with his soldiers. “Some of these folks, it’s the only family they got.”
McLachlan also had two life-or-death situations dropped right into his path last year ― within a week of each other.
In late August, McLachlan happened upon a three-car crash, and one of the vehicles had a severely injured driver with his son sitting in the back. McLachlan grabbed the medic’s bag he always kept in his truck and worked on the driver until paramedics were able to take him away, and he survived.
Five days later, he responded to a car that had driven off the road. His efforts couldn’t save the passenger’s life, but he knew he’d done what he could.
Looking back, he said, he knew he couldn’t have just driven by.
“If not me, who? If not now, when?” he said.