By Tim HippsFebruary 18, 2009
Ten Army Olympians visited the nation's capital in October to spread the word about Soldiers' involvement in the Beijing Games and to thank senior military leaders for their support.
The U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program, Army Marksmanship Unit and Army Reserve athletes posed for photographs and signed autographs at the Association of the United States Army's annual meeting and other military workplaces around town.
They met with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Secretary of the Army Pete Geren, Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. George Casey Jr., Director of the Army Staff Lt. Gen. David Huntoon Jr. and Sergeant Major of the Army Kenneth Preston at the Pentagon.
"I think it's important that we meet the Secretary of Defense and all the leadership of the Army to thank them for their support and the opportunity to represent not only the U.S. Army but the United States," said WCAP Maj. Michael Anti, a four-time Olympian who won a silver medal in three-position rifle shooting at the Athens Games in 2004.
Anti, who placed ninth in the 50-meter rifle prone event in Beijing, was touched by a patriotic display of the U.S. Army's history during the opening ceremony of the AUSA Convention.
"If you're an American and don't get a lump in your throat watching some of the videos and hearing the commentary, there's probably something wrong," he said.
Anti was joined by fellow WCAP Olympians Staff Sgt. Dremiel Byers, a Greco-Roman heavyweight wrestler; Staff Sgt. Keith Sanderson, who finished fifth in the Olympic rapid fire pistol event in Beijing; and Maj. David Johnson, Team USA's rifle coach during the last two summer Olympics who competed in two events at the 1992 Barcelona Games.
"It's great to be here," Byers said of visiting the Pentagon for the first time. "I can see the history on the walls and the professionalism of our country being represented. A lot of powerful things have happened here and a lot of great things have happened here."
Sanderson had run around the Pentagon but had never been inside.
"It's like the Mall of America, but they don't let you in all the shops," he quipped. "They try to keep you out of all the shops."
Specialists Walton Glenn Eller III and Vincent Hancock, who won gold medals in double trap and skeet shotgun shooting respectively in Beijing, represented the Army Marksmanship Unit, along with Sgt. 1st Class Jason Parker, Sgt. 1st Class Daryl Szarenski and Spc. Jeffrey Holguin. Army Reserve Staff Sgt. Elizabeth "Libby" Callahan, 56, the oldest female competitor in U.S. Olympic history, completed the group.
Gold medalists Eller and Hancock received the troops' preferential treatment, including a personal visit with Vice President Richard Cheney in the west wing of the White House.
"This is still more than I can believe, to tell you the truth," Hancock said. "It really is a dream come true. I've said that since the moment I got the gold medal around my neck. Every day is surprising what new comes about. I couldn't ask for anything better."
Hancock shared with Geren and Casey the story of how he was recruited to join the Army as a 16-year-old shotgun-shooting star who won seven international competitions before completing Basic Training between his junior and senior years of high school.
"I started beating guys they had on their team, so they asked me to join," Hancock said, which elicited a round of laughter from the group.
"My brother and my father were competitive shooters when I was growing up, and I was playing a lot of baseball and I didn't really want to shoot. But my dad asked to go out and try it when I was about 10 years old. I went out and fell in love with it and have been doing it ever since.
"My brother is in the military, too. He's been through two tours of Iraq and he's going to Afghanistan next February. He's now a warrant officer."
The Olympians presented framed photo displays to the Army senior leaders.
"It means an awful lot to us to have folks like you out there competing and demonstrating what the Army can do," Geren told the athletes.
Tim Hipps works for FMWRC Public Affairs