Double Duty: Life as Soldiers and Olympians

Story by Erin Wittkop, Defense Media Activity

Managing life as an active-duty service member is a full-time job and then some. From preparing for and completing physical training tests, career school, permanent changes of station, deployment, studying for promotion boards and possibly working towards an undergraduate or advanced degree, there aren’t many occasions to find yourself with nothing to do. Not to mention you have your day job to fit in along with your personal life as well.

It’s a lot to get a handle on.

Enter service members like Army Capt. Chris Fogt and Army Sgt. Justin Olsen. They’re soldiers balancing careers as active-duty warfighters and Olympic-level athletes. I’m in complete awe just thinking about it.

Photo: Army Sgt. Justin Olsen, left, and Army Capt. Chris Fogt, right with medal, pose in the White House East Room before President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama honored members of the 2014 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic teams in Washington, D.C., April 3, 2012. (U.S. Army photo by Lisa Ferdinando/Released)

Army Sgt. Justin Olsen, left, and Army Capt. Chris Fogt, right with medal, pose in the White House East Room before President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama honored members of the 2014 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic teams in Washington, D.C., April 3, 2012. (U.S. Army photo by Lisa Ferdinando/Released)

The extreme dedication and grueling training schedules required for international bobsled competition seem impossible to pair with the demands of a military career. But these two, and many of their peers, have proven time and again that anything is possible when you put your mind to it.

I caught up with them recently at the White House during a reception to honor Olympic and Paralympic athletes and spoke with them about what it’s like to wear both uniforms.

“It’s a great honor. I joined the Army before I started bobsled and the Army’s World Class Athlete program is a great chance to represent what we love through sport and service. It’s a great honor to wear both of those hats,” Capt. Fogt said with enthusiasm, the answer bursting out of him.

Representing service members and making fellow soldiers proud is a driving force for both Fogt and Olsen on the track. “We hope that we can … make you proud to wear the soldier uniform and just to be an American. We look up to [other soldiers] and what they do,” Sgt. Olsen said of what inspires him to be the best the athlete he can be.

He joined the Army in 2010, three years after making the U.S. Olympic team and the choice has only served to motivate him more. While he realizes some service members might look up to him for his athletic accomplishments, he wants them to know it’s a two-way street. “It goes both ways,” he says. “If you’re looking up to us, we’re looking right back at you. You’re getting to do something that I want to do as well,” referencing his admiration for combat veterans and career soldiers. He says he hopes to be like them someday as he pursues his military career and finds more opportunities to serve as a soldier.

Sgt. Olsen does admit that balancing life as a soldier and Olympic athlete can be tough. “It’s a challenge,” he says with a knowing, understated laugh. “You know, I met Capt. Fogt when I first joined bobsled. We actually started at the same time in the fall of ‘07. And, we kind of laugh about it because everybody that started in that year now have Olympic medals.”

He credits Capt. Fogt as being a huge inspiration to him. “I had just left the Air Force Academy and I looked at [him] and I said ‘Man, he’s on the path to becoming commissioned and being an officer in the Army’ and I always looked up to Chris going through that,” he said.

Over the years he has watched Capt. Fogt juggle training, competitions, career school and an Iraq deployment. Capt. Fogt was proof to him that managing both a military career and life as an Olympic athlete was possible; tough, but possible.

“Capt. Fogt’s really kind of wrote the book on how to manage the two because he’s been busy with so many things. I’d like to follow his footsteps as far as Army career if the opportunity presents itself.”

Speaking of Army careers, both Sgt. Olsen and Capt. Fogt have their sights set on soldier life for the long haul.

“I plan on serving 20. I’m still on active-duty and I’m heading back to the regular Army on May 5. My captain’s career course at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., I’ll be there for five or six months. After that, wherever the Army needs me to go,” Capt. Fogt says.

“I want to be a career Army guy as well and I just hope that that opportunity continues to present itself,” adds Olsen.

In the meantime, they’re happy with the challenge of balancing both careers and the camaraderie that being an Olympic athlete brings to both aspects of their lives.

“It was great to actually come home with a medal and show it off. Having a medal, to be able to show that to soldiers and kind of boost morale … is awesome. To be able to see the reactions and the smiles on their faces is priceless,” Capt Fogt says.

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Double Duty: Life as Soldiers and Olympians