FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas (Sept. 21, 2017) - Six Soldiers and Marines from Fort Meade, Maryland reached high during their community service project, putting sweat and intellect to work at Texas VFW Post 8541. Green team "Dog," one of five teams in San Antonio competing in the BOSS Strong Championship, used a small budget for paint and sundries to create an appealing digital lounge within the post, and then furnished it for functional comfort. The intent was to make a lasting impression.
"Post 8541's commander Bill Smith, is an amazing man, a former Special Forces Soldier who served in Iran/Iraq," said Coach Yancy Culp, team "Dog's" Alpha Warrior coach, and owner of YancyCamp.com - an online Obstacle Course Racing (OCR) Training company. "We met him and a lot of the post members and they have a nice [facility] but it's a little run down and needs TLC. With a small budget of around $500, my team wanted to make the biggest and long-lasting impact."
"We chose Post 8541 in part because they have had [five] Medal of Honor recipients as members," said Lance Cpl. Julia Dibartolo, one of the Marines on team Dog. "They are trying to get their name out there to veterans more of our age. I've been to a couple of VFWs before. When I walked through the doors, I realized this was a really big post, with lots of room to work with. We thought we could help make it more appealing for Veterans our age and more tech-savvy."
VFW Post 8541 memorializes James B. Sprague, and is the home to life members and Medal of Honor recipients Sgt. 1st Class Fred W. Zabitosky, Col. Robert L. Howard, Sgt. First Class James Rodela, Staff Sgt. James Bondsteel, and Warrant Officer Louis Rocco.
"I feel like this community service project adds so much to what we are doing in the competition," said Spc. Brandon Lee-Tobin. "We're taking a message to our Soldiers and taking a message to our prior service military, paving a way for future Veterans to come in and be able to take technology by the reins and push forward. We set up one room for them."
Team Dog includes hard-charging Soldiers and Marines working to win at fitness, endurance and strength during the championship, community service is less about strength, and more about passion and spirit of giving.
"Volunteering is one my strong suits in BOSS, and we have to put our all into it for the competition." said Spc. Alexis Kwamin. "I'm doing new things, like painting, something I've never done, but I love to work as a team for the community. The older generation -- they're tougher than us. They put their boots up, but they are Soldiers until the day they die."
By selecting a coach with an extensive network of contacts, team Dog was able to score big in their community service efforts.
"We reached out on social media, and Jeffrey Palmero with Clear Measure, a software company out of Austin, Texas, faced-timed us on the big 25-foot screen at Fort Sam Houston Theatre, and they were inspired by what we were trying to do and agreed to donate 18 laptops," explained Coach Culp. "Not only were we able to create an internet café for Post 8541, we now have laptops to distribute across the six different VFW posts, for all five teams plus the WCAP team."
"You have a lot of Vietnam era members, 65 plus, that's very common," explained Coach Culp, or Coach Yancy as his team calls him. "We've been at war for 15 years and now you have these 27 to 35 year-old veterans coming in. The age dynamic is changing. We want to create an environment with modern technology for them. Having the updated technology is going to be fantastic for [Post 8541] to allow them to get up to speed in 2017 technology."
"We had very little time, but utilizing Coach Yancy's network, we got some responses back and in less than six hours, we had a CEO, a retired Veteran, secure laptops for us and for the other teams, and we're going to help out in a huge way," said Spc. Lee-Tobin. "We are intel and we can assist remotely like a IT help line. We'll be there for them."
"With community service being one of the pillars of BOSS, I think it makes sense to nest what we are doing in community with the competition," said Lt. Col. Dan Browne, a 2004 Olympian and U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program, Modern Pentathlon coach. "Coach Yancy and I have similar skill sets, enthusiastic personalities. Coach Yancy is highly energetic, and my focus, being on high performance, I saw what I needed to do was provide a calm and cool demeanor with the team. We work well together and I'm very thankful to be paired with Coach Yancy."
BOSS believes the Soldier receives as much or more than he gives, while performing community service.
"[Some of our] Soldiers never walked into a VFW before. The older vet is so passionate about serving the next in line, " Coach Yancy said. "It's been unique to see how passionate the younger Soldiers on Dog team are -- when they realize it wasn't too long ago that they were in my shoes. I'm 23, you're 65, we have something in common. This is a damn good group of Soldiers and Marines. This country is in good hands."
The name of Coach Yancy's team is important to him, reflecting his own responsiveness towards the BOSS Strong Championship.
"Able, Baker, Charlie, Dog and Easy is a throwback to the old World War II phonetic alphabet," Coach Yancy said, explaining how the team got their name. "Spc. Lee-Tobin won the opening competition and won the right to choose me as their coach. I'm a World War II history buff and I love that the green team chose "Dog" as their call sign. I've got a great group, a combination of Army and Marine intelligence. They are sharp as a tack."
The U.S. Army Installation Management Command created the BOSS Strong Championship to inspire some of America's rugged professionals -- U.S. Army Soldiers from around the world -- to get excited about resilience and readiness, and to get a close-up look at functional fitness through their eyes. Some surprises have surfaced.
"We've held up well in the physical challenges, we've got three females and three males, and we've kept up through the competition," said Coach Yancy. "I've had one of my 115-pound female Marines carry my guys across one of the obstacles. When the civilians around the world get to see these females from all the teams doing what they are doing during this competition, it's going to be absolutely wonderful."
"Coach Yancy is a hard-driven person," said Lance Cpl. Dibartolo. "He pushes us, especially on competition day, in your face yelling and screaming, but when you talk to him, he is calm, emotional and sentimental. He'll cry once a day, and we're used to that, and that's what we really like. He's very close to us and we can tell he cares about us."
Looking ahead to the end of the BOSS Strong Championship, with the finale coming Sept. 24, Coach Yancy and some of his team were able to reflect on the competition and envision how the public might view the program.
"For us, the five coaches, and the Soldiers [and Marines], we see ourselves as an Army of One," said Yancy. "The military is not for everyone. It's about not serving yourself, but serving your team and your country -- and that's when the cream rises to the top. The competition has been magical. I hope in the final program, the civilians will see the amazing moments during this competition."
"From this whole experience, we've learned a lot, and expect to bring this [know-how] back home to our Soldiers and Marines," said Lance Cpl. Dibartolo. "[For the Championship] we know each other's strengths and weaknesses, but knowing those will help us push together through the competition as a team."
"Coach Yancy is awesome, like a father-figure, and passionate about what he does," said Spc. Lee-Tobin. "He tells us he loves us, every day, and no matter what happens, he says we'll be part of his network and part of my family. We definitely appreciate that because we need that kind of glue to support a team from all different walks in life."
"This is a functional fitness competition," said Spc. Lee-Tobin. "I have no doubt that we'll be able to take Coach Yancy's expertise and our strengths and sweep the competition."
"The BOSS Strong Championship is an amazing event," said Lt. Col. Browne. "We came into to it not knowing what to expect, but it's a great experience for these Soldiers. My hope is that the greater Army will see all the things through the BOSS program and will start to incorporate it in the total force."
"I think these Soldiers on team Dog have learned, grown stronger and improved as performers in the physical arena," said Lt. Col. Browne. "Their positive mental attitude will be what carries them across the finish line. With the grand finale coming up, it's very exciting. I think we have a team that knows how to work together. That's very important. When Soldiers step up and when we need to get across the finish line, that's the hallmark."
The BOSS Strong Championship, including this community service project delivered on the promise to make a lasting impression at VFW Post 8541 and on the members of team Dog.
"This competition has been a journey, I'm learning about myself in an emotional, physical and social level," said Spc. Kwamin. "I'm really glad to be a part of BOSS Strong Championship. I [can say] I helped impact on the military in a big way. I left my footprint."
"The next few days will be the toughest of my military career," said Spc. Alexis Kwamin. "Coach Browne is very determined, and I look up to him for his credentials alone. I don't think he will ever know how his silent pushes and calm demeanor has helped push me as a person. Coach Yancy is very hands on and loves every single person that he encounters and wants the very best for them. I can't say I could ask for a better coach in my life."
Five teams of six Soldiers will compete in the finale of the BOSS Strong Championship on Sept. 24 at Retama Park, which features an obstacle course designed to test each competitor's strength and endurance.
BOSS refers to Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers, an Army program designed to increase exposure to educational, social, recreational, and artistic activities by unaccompanied military members at Army garrisons around the world.
The goal of the competition, anticipated to be an annual event, is to increase Soldiers' awareness of the most modern ways to increase functional fitness, and to highlight the Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) programs and facilities available on Army bases for Soldiers to use in their personal workout programs.
The Army has employed coaches and advisors so that each team is best equipped to compete at the highest level. Soldiers from the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program, stationed in Fort Carson, Colorado, and experienced in TSET (Total Soldier Enhancement Training) were brought in to serve as assistant coaches and trainers in various events, such as swimming, equestrian and combative training. Outside coaches, led by Bennie Wylie, winner of Season One of the NBC television's "Strong" series, have embedded with each team to help them achieve their maximum potential.
The Army is exploring the concept of functional fitness, so they can combine methods with the right training and recreation facilities, to achieve the maximum benefit to the Soldier as they prepare for the fight down range. Soldiers are referred to as the "rugged professional" as they should be ready and equipped to live and fight in austere and even primitive surroundings. This competition focuses on five healthy aspects of Army life: physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual well-being.
During the two-week event, the Army has been recording each team's progress for delayed broadcast on the U.S. Department of Defense News website and other online platforms. The web series will tell the story of the contestants and follow the teams as they progress through the competition.
The competition during the final day of the BOSS Strong Championship is open to the public. The teams of Soldiers will begin their obstacle course run starting 2:30 p.m. followed by a concert performance by country artist Natalie Stovall. Closing ceremonies are scheduled to begin 6:15 p.m.
The competition is sponsored by Cerasport Rice-based Electrolyte Drink, Trigger Point Performance Therapy, Global Promotional Sales and Breezer Mobile Cooling.