FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas (Sept. 25, 2017) -- They didn't have to persevere for the sake of victory, and some of their bodies and minds clearly were exhausted. But for this group of Soldiers and Marines, not completing the final obstacle course was not an option.
Five teams of rugged military professionals earned the privilege of representing their region in the 2017 BOSS Strong Championship, designed to determine which squad could best improve its overall fitness -- endurance, mobility, speed and strength, all of which led to improved readiness and resilience.
On the last event of the 14-day competition at Retama Park in Selma, Texas, the final results hinged upon how long it took the last Soldier to cross the finish line. And this certainly was one competition in which no Soldier, nor Marine, would be left behind.
These troops traversed a rough road of obstacle-filled days and sleepless nights to reach the two-week finale at Fort Sam Houston, Camp Bullis and Retama Park, where they faced another long stretch of pre-dawn awakenings for even longer competitive days in the South Texas heat.
In July and August, the U.S. Army Installation Management Command invited each of its garrison Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers programs to field a team of six competitors to follow a fitness plan devised by BOSS Strong Championship head coach/trainer Bennie Wylie, the champion trainer of NBC Television's inaugural "Strong" series. Each IMCOM region was later tasked to select a team that not only had met the challenge, but would best represent the Army in a made-for-television series.
From IMCOM-Europe, the U.S. Army Garrison at Vicenza, Italy, assembled team "Able," the squadron of Spcs. Landon Kennedy, Anthony Rodriguez, Gerardo Lopez, and Pfcs. Joey Biggers, Christopher Ortiz and Avelardo Martinez. Also known as team "Max Effort," they wore red jerseys.
From IMCOM-Pacific, USAG Camp Humphreys, South Korea, entered team "Baker," consisting of Spcs. William Cook, Bryce Forseth, Catheryn Mayfield and Pfcs. Khayree Sneed, Nicholas Angelo and Jayme Patterson. Also known as "SWOLE Team Six," they wore white jerseys.
From IMCOM-Sustainment, Fort Meade, Maryland, team "Dog" was comprised of three Soldiers: Spcs. Brandon Lee-Tobin and Alexis Kwamin, along with Pfc. Joseph Ramirez, who teamed with three Marines: Lance Cpls. Julia DiBartolo, Autumn Schlecht, and Dylan Green. They wore green jerseys.
From IMCOM-Training, Fort Lee, Virginia, assembled team "Easy": Sgts. Jeffrey Jones and Damien Broadnax, Spcs. Jason Melnick and Tanner Poush, along with Pfcs. Jaela Clark and Michael Golisano. They wore orange jerseys and called themselves "KAHC Weapons of Mass Reduction."
From IMCOM-Readiness, Fort Bliss, Texas, entered team "Charlie," including Staff Sgt. Ken Huguley, Spcs. Richard Woods, David Yescas and Brittany Williams, and Pfcs. Jacob Harrison and Lance Balaga. They wore blue jerseys and were also called "Stronghold 7."
Those teams came to San Antonio to represent Army fitness, resilience and readiness. The goal of the competition, anticipated to be an annual event, was to increase Soldiers' awareness of state-of-the-art ways to increase functional fitness, and to highlight the Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation, or FMWR, programs and facilities available on Army installations for Soldiers to use in their workouts.
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 Army employed both internal and external coaches, trainers, medical staff and fitness consultants to ensure that each competitor was best equipped to compete at the highest level.
While Wylie worked with all of the troops, each team had a civilian coach who has excelled as a personal fitness, strength, conditioning and endurance trainer: Brandi Binkley, Yancy Culp, Wes Okerson, Matt Miller and Drew Logan. Each team also had an assistant coach from the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program: former Olympic bobsledders and current Team USA coaches Capt. Micheal Kohn and Sgt. Shauna Rohbock, former Olympic distance runner and current WCAP coach Lt. Col. Daniel Browne, wrestler and two-time Army combatives champion Maj. Jonathon Anderson, and WCAP head wrestling coach Shon Lewis.
About 35 more WCAP Soldiers, most of whom are stationed at Fort Carson, Colorado, were brought in to deliver Total Soldier Enhancement Training, or TSET, to the troops. They also served as trainers in various events, such as archery, horseback riding, running, shooting and combative sports, like boxing, wrestling and Taekwondo. A few even led specific events, such as three-time Olympic rapid-fire pistol shooter Sgt. 1st Class Keith Sanderson, who led events on the qualification ranges, and Sgt. Ryan McIntosh, who led the troops through the Army MWR Outdoor Recreation's three-dimensional archery course in the woods of Camp Bullis.
The Army is exploring the concept of functional fitness so it can update training facilities to maximize benefits to Soldiers' preparation for deployment. Soldiers, referred to as "rugged professionals," should be ready and equipped to live and fight in austere and even primitive surroundings. The BOSS Strong Championship focused on five healthy aspects of Army life: physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual well-being.
During the two-week event, the Army recorded each team's progress for a 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.
Spc. Richard Woods was the last Soldier to clear the final catch net of the Alpha Warrior obstacle course. His grip was weakened by the grueling test. His legs were unsteady, his eyes unsure. Although Woods could not swing and pull himself through to the end, he found another way to the finish. After one last tumble into a net suspended high in the air, he tumbled and rolled, managed one last grip, and dropped to the ground, concluding the inaugural BOSS Strong Championship.
In any test of wills, the strongest of body, mind, emotion and spirit usually prevails. Sometime in early 2018, broadcast schedules permitting, the champion of the 2017 BOSS Strong Championship will be revealed. Just in case, each team got to touch the championship trophy on Sunday afternoon at Retama Park -- where no competitor truly knew where they stood in the final outcome -- for filming purposes.
Meantime, the overall achievement of these troops -- their lessons learned and bonds molded -- will long outlast the confetti that rained down upon their awards presentation. As the confetti melted upon the hot Texas asphalt, the BOSS Strong jersey colors blended into a sea of U.S. Armed Forces' Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers -- all growing stronger together.
The 2017 BOSS Strong Championship was sponsored by Cerasport Rice-based Electrolyte Drink, Trigger Point Performance Therapy, Global Promotional Sales and Breezer Mobile Cooling.