SPC Patrick Chayeb exits a UH-60 Black Hawk during training on Fort Rucker August 22, 2022 in preparation for the U.S. Army best squad competition in September 2022. (Photo by Jay Mann)
Boyhood dream becomes reality
By: Libby Weiler, USAG Benelux Public Affairs
CHIEVRES AIR BASE, Belgium – From a young age, Sgt. Patrick Ziad Chayeb, a military police Soldier at Chièvres Air Base, knew he wanted to serve. But he never thought his path would lead him to the U.S. or to become a representative of U.S. Army Garrison Benelux at Army-level competitions.
Born and raised in Lebanon, his childhood dream was to become an officer in the Army. “The simplest things, like movies,” said Chayeb. “Every time I used to watch a movie [about the military], I thought, this is me, this is what I want to do.”
Patrick Chayeb playing with toy night vision googles at the age of five in his childhood home next to his mother, Christiane Medawar Chayeb, on April 25, 2006, in Lebanon. (Courtesy photo, photo by Rania Gharios)
Having a father who is Lebanese and a mother with U.S. citizenship, Chayeb was in a unique position.
After learning he would not be granted a choice in his assigned duties if he joined the Lebanese Army, he decided to forgo his dream of serving and moved to the United States to attend college.
“I moved to the States and then a recruiter texted me out of nowhere,” said Chayeb. “And I was like, ‘Wait, what? I can be in the U.S. Army? Absolutely!’”
He spoke with his recruiter further and had only one request.
“I said, ‘Before you say a single word, I want to be a Soldier, but if I can’t go to Lebanon, don’t even start wasting my time. That’s the only thing I need.’” said Chayeb.
Being close to his Family, he wanted to be able to continue to visit home and relatives while he served. Especially family members that did not have a U.S. passport like his father and grandparents.
He completed his first year of college and then joined the U.S. Army.
Things didn’t come easy at first.
“My English was at zero” said Chayeb.
Having studied English in school growing up, he had the basics, but he had never been in an environment in which Arabic or French was not mixed into the conversation as well.
“The American accent plus people around me speaking straight English, no Arabic in between, no French in between, nothing…that was a little bit hard,” said Chayeb. “Especially a drill sergeant yelling at you.”
He started basic training with the mindset that he would graduate and go back home to Lebanon to visit his Family. As basic training progressed, his drill sergeants started to ask about plans after graduation. Being family oriented, Chayeb proudly said he wanted to visit home once he completed basic training.
“You’re going to Lebanon?” Chayeb’s drill sergeant told him. “You cannot go to Lebanon; you are in the Army now.”
“Everything went boom,” said Chayeb, “and I’m like, what? I cannot see my Family for five years. My father does not have an American passport and my sister does not either. My grandpa raised me and he cannot travel at all.”
At a loss for what to do, Chayeb called home. In a 10-minute conversation his mom managed to remind him why he is doing this and assured him that they would find a way to see each other.
He continued with basic training and two days before his last event he got injured.
“I’m done, I don’t want to do this anymore.” Chayeb thought. “But, I’m still going to talk to this magician called my mom.”
“I called her and she told me, ‘Remember why you are there right now. If it was not worth it, you wouldn’t have even signed your contract. You’ve always wanted this since you were small.’”
Not wanting to postpone basic training, he went to his doctor and requested approval to return to duty. His doctor was reluctant, but ended up giving it to him in order for him to graduate basic training on time.
Chayeb’s first assignment after graduating was at Camp Casey, South Korea. He served there for a year and then got orders to transfer to USAG Benelux in Belgium.
“I started working as an investigator,” said Chayeb. “I loved the job and then they ask me, ‘Do you want to go to the quarter board?’”
Not sure what that entailed, Chayeb started discussing it with his first line supervisor, Staff Sgt. Riley S. Cox.
“I don’t know if I’m into that” Chayeb remembers saying, “it’s sports and my English is not that good. It’s hard for me to memorize books.”
“Why don’t you try,” he remembers Cox saying. “I’ll help you study.”
From there a mentorship was born. They worked together to fine tune Chayeb’s skills, and it ended up setting him apart from his peers.
Spc. Patrick Z. Chayeb speaking during Staff Sgt. Riley S. Cox’s reenlistment ceremony on March 9, 2022, on Chièvres Air Base, Belgium. (U.S. Army photo by Christophe Morel)
Chayeb won the quarter board for Chièvres Air Base and then advanced to the USAG Benelux quarter board. He won the quarter board for the Benelux and then moved on to train for the USAG Benelux Soldier of the Year competition.
“I was already stressed out,” said Chayeb.
Juggling studying for the boards and training for the competitions on top of full-time college classes and obtaining his life coach licensing, Chayeb didn’t have much free time.
At around the same time, he was asked to compete in the Benelux Best Warrior Competition.
“I was like, ‘Hey Sergeant. I can’t.’”
“I’m not going to put pressure on you,” said Cox, “but you know you’re doing good. It’s up to you, but if you want to go I’ll support you 100 percent.”
Chayeb decided to add one more thing to his plate and started training for the USAG Benelux Best Warrior Competition.
“It was a good experience,” said Chayeb. “It was my first Best Warrior Competition, and I was like, there’s literally everything! There’s land navigation, there’s medical, there’s weapons, there’s all that, all in three days.”
Spc. Patrick Z. Chayeb, performs lifesaving action on a dummy during the medical lane portion of the Benelux Best Warrior Competition on Chièvres Air Base in Chièvres, Belgium on Feb. 8, 2022. (U.S. Army photo by Libby Weiler, USAG Benelux Public Affairs)
He came in first place as the Benelux Best Warrior Soldier for 2022 and then competed in the Benelux Soldier of the Year competition the following week.
Winning both competitions, Chayeb didn’t have much time to celebrate and immediately transitioned into training for what was next - Installation Management Command (IMCOM) Europe’s Best Warrior Competition in Baumholder, Germany.
The stress was too much and something had to give. “I took a break from college,” said Chayeb. “I was supposed to get my degree this year at the end of 2022.”
After winning four competitions in a row, Chayeb found out his mentor was transferring to a new location and his new mentor would be Master Sgt. Christopher Olver.
“I didn’t know who Master Sgt. Olver was,” said Chayeb. “I only knew him as being the strict guy on the board with the hardest questions. After I really got to talk to him, [I realized] he’s an amazing leader.”
Spc. Patrick. Z. Chayeb being graded by Master Sgt. Christopher W. Olver during the Benelux Best Warrior Competition on Chièvres Air Base in Chièvres, Belgium on Feb. 9, 2022. (U.S. Army photo by Libby Weiler, USAG Benelux Public Affairs)
Chayeb started to train with Olver in Germany on land navigation and weaponry. Olver’s expertise and years in the Army taught him many valuable lessons.
“There is a pace counter [for land navigation], which I didn’t have,” said Chayeb.
Due to Olver’s experience, he said, ‘all right, put small rocks in your right pocket. Every time you hit one hundred meters, put one in your left pocket.’
“I knew I had a lot of weaknesses for this competition,” said Chayeb “but the way he affected me mentally, it gave me a big push to train more.”
At smaller competitions in the Benelux, Chayeb’s mentality was to go get the win. However, as he started to advance into higher competitions, his mentality shifted.
“I kind of humbled myself a little bit,” said Chayeb. “When I started going up and up my mentality started to be, I am going to go give it my best and whatever happens, happens. The name, IMCOM Europe - it’s intimidating.”
If Chayeb was intimidated at IMCOM Europe’s Best Warrior Competition, no one could tell. After competing in Germany, he arrived back to the Benelux as IMCOM Europe’s Best Warrior Soldier for 2022.
Not having much time to rest, Chayeb started training for what was next – Army Materiel Command’s Best Warrior Competition at Fort Benning, Georgia.
Up until this point Chayeb had great mentors pushing him along the way and helping to train him for the next stage in the competition. But just as Cox got transferred, so too did Olver.
“With IMCOM Europe, I knew I was going to go there and just do great,” said Chayeb. “I knew I had the support where I could see myself winning. For the AMC one, no one was training me; I did not train as much as IMCOM Europe, because I did not see myself winning.”
Chayeb remembers thinking, “Ok, I don’t have friends in the competition, and I don’t want friends. I’m just going there to give it my best.”
Of course, as the competition evolved he started to make friends with his competitors.
“We were competing, it was me and this guy,” said Chayeb. “He was an infantryman man, so all the events in the competition he’s really good at. He had his expert infantry badge. He’s a stud, he’s a good Soldier.”
After a few tiring days of competing, the last event was a 12-mile ruck in humid, hot Georgia with around 60 pounds of weight in their rucksacks.
“We started the ruck march and I told him, ‘alright we start together, we finish together.’”
“It was really hot. He started struggling at maybe mile nine,” recounts Chayeb. “I kept pushing him and I realized if I push someone it’s way more motivating than me pushing myself.”
Chayeb noticed his friend was struggling with the heat and stepped up to get him to the finish line.
“Me coming from Lebanon, I’m a man of principle. If I say something, no matter what I’m going to do it.”
Both competitors made it to the end of the 12-mile ruck with about five minutes to spare.
With top scores, both Chayeb and his friend advanced to represent Army Material Command at the next stage in the competition – the U.S. Army’s first-ever Best Squad Competition at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
Each squad had a team of five Soldiers and there were twelve teams competing against one another.
“We started the first three days as individuals,” said Chayeb. “It was for expert Soldier badge qualifications.”
Outside of a competition, expert Soldier badge qualifications normally take three weeks – two weeks of preparation and then one week of qualifications.
“They did the ESB lanes with no preparation and seven days of qualification they squeezed it into three days,” said Chayeb.
On top of a grueling schedule, competitors got anywhere from two to four hours of sleep each night.
“It was not the [lack of] sleep that was tiring,” said Chayeb. “It’s me studying for all the lanes because everything was new to me. What I know here [in the Benelux] might be helpful but the steps they want is totally different.”
Spc. Patrick Chayeb, representing the U.S. Army Materiel Command, assesses simulated casualty injuries during the medical lanes portion of the Army’s first-ever Best Squad Competition on Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Oct. 1, 2022. The Army Best Squad Competition tests Soldiers on their individual and collective ability to adapt-to and overcome challenging scenarios and battle-readiness events, evaluating their physical and mental endurance, technical and tactical abilities, and basic warrior skills under stress and extreme fatigue. (U.S. Army Photo by Spc. Zachery T. Frost)
Chayeb finished the medical lanes and his physical training test, then moved on to land navigation at night. The use of light was not permitted to complete this task and graders were everywhere in the woods.
“We had a compass and a map,” said Chayeb. “I was walking and I see water. I’m trying to put my foot on the water and I disappear. Water came to my throat [and] I got stuck.
“I was walking in a swamp for 30 minutes just trying to find somewhere where there was no water. It was funny, but in the moment I hated it.”
After competing as individuals, the squad came together and started group competitions.
“They didn’t tell us anything about the competition,” said Chayeb.
Soldiers were to wait in their barracks until a board in the lobby had new information pinned to it. Because there was no communication as to when this happened, the team had to take shifts and check the board about every 30 minutes.
One of the first team events was a 12-mile ruck, which was almost immediately followed by a mission.
“A helicopter comes and picks us up,” said Chayeb. “They give us a map, they give us a radio and everyone has NVG, which is night vision goggles.”
The helicopter landed in the middle of the woods and the team had to find their way to a point on the map.
“We had a point, so our squad leader was pulling security,” said Chayeb. “He plotted the point and he’s like, ‘it’s pretty far guys.’”
Overall Chayeb estimates around 80 miles/128 km of rucking took place within a three-day period. Their team lead got injured and broke his ankle in the process. They ran into swampland and had to backtrack a few times. Nevertheless, it was still a positive experience for Chayeb.
“We had to help each other,” said Chayeb. “Everyone had a weakness in a specific event and we were all pushing each other. It was amazing.”
When asked if he would consider competing again at Army level competitions, Chayeb responded with, “Maybe you’re asking at the wrong time, because I need a break just to get back on my feet college wise. But yes, I loved it…Not now, but I would.”
“I belong to the Benelux right now and it’s an honor for me to be this person that’s representing the entire Benelux in the Army level,” said Chayeb. “I feel really proud of myself that I was able to represent this unit.”
He credits his success in large part to the support he received from mentors and Family members along the way.
“Everyone in the Family is a huge support,” said Chayeb. “It’s crazy how much they support me no matter what.”
As to his mentors Staff Sgt. Cox and Master Sgt. Olver, Chayeb said, “I want to thank them. I was losing motivation in the Army. They literally just picked me up, grabbed me, and put me on my feet. Without them, I would not have done even the first step, which were the quarter boards right here at USAG Benelux. Their leadership not only affected me as a Soldier, it affected me as a person everywhere, on and off duty. They gave me a different perspective of the Army. That’s the Army I really want to be in. If I worked with all people like them, I would do more than 20 years in the Army, 100 percent.”
To the young boy who dreamed of being a Soldier he said, “You made it come true...the United States Army. I never expected that in my entire life.”
Sgt. Patrick Chayeb will graduate in 2023 with his Bachelor’s degree in Intelligence Studies.
He hopes to go into diplomatic security services as a special agent working in U.S. Embassies all over the world.
His accomplishments in the last year include:
- Chièvres Air Base Quarter 4 Board Winner for 2021
- USAG Benelux Quarter 4 Board Winner for 2021
- USAG Benelux Soldier of the Year for 2021
- USAG Benelux Best Warrior Soldier for 2022
- Installation Management Command (IMCOM) Europe Best Warrior Soldier for 2022
- Army Materiel Command (AMC) Best Warrior Soldier Second Place for 2022
- U.S. Army Best Squad Competitor for 2022