Ring leader: 159th CAB Soldier uses fighting spirit to mentor
June 7, 2012
His Soldier describes his mentoring as "punch-love" style.
Sgt. 1st Class Jay Karvaski, the 159th Combat Aviation Brigade's intelligence section NCO in charge, admits his boxing experience began much that way.
"If you are out of line or out of regulation, he'll come at you strong, then afterward, once you've realized what's ... wrong, then comes the love -- the mentoring," said Sgt. Ryan Pillette, an intelligence specialist with HHC, 159th CAB.
While his leadership style is uniquely his own, influenced by a number of role models he's known, Karvaski said it mostly emulates his father.
"My father is great. I definitely want to be like my father in most ways," he said.
A good NCO knows his strengths. A better NCO knows his weaknesses. The best NCOs work to change those weaknesses, and Karvaski seems to aspire to that.
"I'm constantly trying to better myself," Karvaski said.
His leadership style developed in the ring.
Karvaski was eight years old when his family moved to a rough neighborhood in Allentown, Penn. He knew he would have to learn to fight in order to protect himself.
At the age of 12, he learned to box. At 16, he found a trainer and began competing.
Sonny Mistretta was a trainer for professional boxers. Karvaski said he approached Mistretta as a young man, asking for lessons. Mistretta put the 16-year-old in the ring with a pro boxer, who went several rounds with the boy.
Karvaski said not only did his opponent have a 15-pound advantage, he was also a trained, professional fighter. Naturally, Karvaski did not fare very well during the match.
"I was all bloodied up, my nose was messed up, my eyes were black and blue and puffed up," Karvaski said. "(Mistretta asked me), 'Are you coming back tomorrow?' and I said, 'Do you think I did all that for nothing?' He said, 'That's what I wanted to find out.'"
That determined young man persevered and went on to win numerous championships in the U.S. and Europe.
While he may not be boxing professionally anymore, Karvaski said he has learned to apply the lessons he learned as a young man in the ring to his everyday life in the Army, especially self-discipline.
"(Boxing) taught me a lot about self-discipline, and I try to instill all that into my Soldiers," Karvaski said.
Pillette said one of his NCO's strongest characteristic is being able to work through adversity and pain.
"(Something may bother) him, but he doesn't let that show, which is probably something from boxing -- not showing when you're hurt," he said.
Pfc. Taner Elson, a military analyst with HHC, 159th CAB, said he can see that self-discipline shining through whenever Karvaski's workload is heavy.
And endurance is a word both Soldiers and athletes alike use.
Pillette was under Karvaski's tutelage for a short time prior to the brigade's deployment in 2011.
"I had a wrestling background in high school," Pillette said. "I asked him if he could show me some stuff. I wanted to work on more of a striking game."
Pillette knew Karvaski was serious about his boxing game.
"He told me if I was to start training with him, I just couldn't quit." Pillette said. "That was the issue - if we start, we don't stop."
Just as a Soldier should maintain physical activity levels similar to those of an athlete, soldiering requires the same situational awareness, perseverance, and dedication as boxing does.
"Obviously, boxing and being in the Army ... is plenty different, but at the same time, it has similarities... in managing the shop, his workload, being where he has to be on time, and having the discipline to do that," Elson said.
Discipline is imperative in boxing, Karvaski said. Making the choice to follow through with what he began has served him well, both in boxing and in the Army.
That discipline drives Karvaski not to meet the standard, but to exceed it.
"He's always pushing everyone - and pushing himself ... he goes over and beyond his potential and his limits, and that sets a standard for us (his Soldiers)," Elson said. "If your leader is doing that for you, and he's dealing with his issues, why can't you?"
What drives Karvaski's Soldiers to push themselves? What makes them want to work harder for him? It's what he learned in the ring.
"(Boxing) taught me both self-respect and respect for others," he said.
And he seems to be passing it on to his Soldiers in a way that they may one day guide and teach others. He does this is through teaching his Soldiers the right way to do things.
Karvaski said the right way to correct a Soldier is first to ensure the Soldiers know what they did wrong, understand that it is wrong, and then apply some effective way to teach the Soldiers, apply corrective training that pertains to what they did wrong and teach them the right way to do it.
"In boxing, you're taught to keep your hands up," he said. "If I drop my hands, I get punched in the face. That's how I was taught by my coach -- I get smacked across the side of the head -- POP!"
The corrective training his coach used - slapping him in the face - taught Karvaski to keep his hands in the proper position. Although Karvaski does not resort to physical stimuli for corrective training; he uses another technique - motivation.
"I decide which Soldiers need positive and negative motivation by their attitude," Karvaski said, noting that he alternates it as necessary. "How I decide that is how they react to what they did."
If the Soldier has the "So what?" attitude, Karvaski provides negative motivation.
On the other hand, for the Soldiers who understand they have erred and are already punishing themselves, the proper way to better those Soldiers is through positive motivation, he said.
"They need positive motivation as well to bring them back up, because they know they did wrong and they want to be good Soldiers," Karvaski said.
His antenna have to be tuned in to his Soldiers at all times.
"Of course!" he said frankly. "I'm a non-commissioned officer."
With a "punch-love" style of mentoring Soldiers, Karvaski is using his experience in the ring to help shape the Army's future leaders.
Pillette said he appreciates what his NCO has done for him, not only because he gained new skills, but also because he learned what being an NCO really was.
"He took his time outside of work to mentor me," Pillette said. "It's still an NCO thing because it's mentoring, he was taking his time to try and build something I was interested in, but he was also a professional who could impart that knowledge.
"He taught me (that) you have to build on your principles of boxing to become better," Pillette said. "The speed bag can teach accuracy. With accuracy comes speed. With speed comes power."
Empowering his Soldiers to grow, test their strengths, and in turn, believe in themselves is what fosters the respect Karvaski's Soldiers are so willing to give.
Karvaski sometimes sees his younger self in Elson, which Elson said he finds inspiring.
"It makes me feel like I'm doing a great job and working to my standards - beyond my standards," Elson said. "He's a good leader to look up to."
All this has made Karvaski who he is today, both personally and professionally.
It goes to show you can take the man out of the fight, but you can't take the fight out of the man.