Many of us remember hearing about the Soviet teams in the past who would be made up of soldiers, but they would never see a day of combat. The United States has a similar program in place, but not nearly as shady. With all apologies to Kellen Winslow, Jr., there are actual athletes who are soldiers, and you will most likely be cheering them on this summer. The World Class Athletic Program, run by the U.S. Army, prepares soldiers who show athletic promise to be Olympic contenders.
WCAP, open to all Army members in good standing, recognizes elite athletes, and gives them resources and support to continue their training while also continuing their military career. Only the best athletes are chosen for WCAP. They must be ranked highly in their sport, and be likely to qualify for the Olympics. Though the WCAP has training centers in wrestling, boxing, and modern pentathlon, athletes in many sports compete on behalf of the Army.
Major Steve Reich
Though these soldiers are exceptional athletes, they are soldiers first. WCAP baseball player Major Steve Reich was killed in Afghanistan when his special ops helicopter was shot down. Sgt. Iris Smith, a women’s wrestling World Champion in 2005, missed the 2001 World Championships because she was in basic training.
Dennis Bowsher and Dremiel Byers
Two soldier-athletes to watch for during the Beijing Olympics are Staff Sgt. Dremiel Byers, an Olympic hopeful in Greco Roman wrestling, and Spc. Dennis Bowsher in modern pentathlon. Byers, who will compete at the Olympic Trials this coming weekend, won a Bronze medal at the 2007 World Championships, and is a favorite to come home with hardware from Beijing. Bowsher is a two time national champion in the pentathlon, and took home the silver medal in the World Cup.