By Ms. Brittany Nelson (IMCOM)May 15, 2019
JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO, FORT SAM HOUSTON, TEXAS--The U.S. Army is full of specialized career opportunities ranging anywhere from the medical field to culinary arts. The World Class Athlete Program adds a new meaning to 'unique opportunities' in the Army.
WCAP is a program where Soldier-athletes train to qualify and compete in Olympic and Paralympic sports at international levels while still maintaining their Soldier duties and responsibilities
One of the sports includes Taekwondo where there are currently six Soldier-athletes and two coaches.
"I heard about WCAP when I was training at the Olympic training center. I trained there from 1995-1998 and there were a couple of Soldier-athletes that trained with us," said Sgt. Maj. David Bartlett, head taekwondo coach and former WCAP Soldier-athlete. "They talked about the benefits of the military as a career and the opportunity to compete in taekwondo."
Bartlett started competing for WCAP when he was eighteen years old and says that his decision to join the Army is great because it allowed him to have a military career and grow as a leader.
While working with WCAP, Bartlett, like many Soldier-athletes, has participated in community outreach and recruiting missions.
"Over the course of 20 years I have participated 47 Total Army Involvement Recruiting, or TAIR, missions, and Total Soldier enhancement trainings, TSET," Bartlett said.
During TAIR missions, Soldier-athletes visit schools and talk about the U.S. Army. They get the opportunity to engage with the community and educate the public about the opportunities the Army has to offer.
During a TSET mission, Soldier-athletes and coaches lead a workout focused around their sport. The exercise consists of multiple stations, each designed to improve and establish skills critical for Soldiers' readiness and ability to fight.
Bartlett, a four time National Champion and member of the World Taekwondo Hall of Fame, was a WCAP Soldier-athlete before he became a coach.
"Seeing the Soldier-athletes go out there and do their best is one of my favorite parts of coaching," said Bartlett. "They adapt to situations, overcome long days, cut weight, and maintain eating properly. All of that is extremely important and to watch them take on that task and be victorious is rewarding."
Bartlett helped mold the team into what they are today. He also recruited Spc. Terrence Jennings, current coach and former Soldier-athlete.
"One of my first recruits was the 2012 Olympic bronze medalist, Jennings, who is now coaching alongside with me," said Bartlett. "We were able to recruit further, build our team to about 13 Soldiers and we are on the right path now and looking forward to the 2020 Olympics."
Jennings, a national champion who started competing at eleven years old, joined WCAP in 2016 and became a coach two years later.
"I joined WCAP because it gave me an opportunity to continue my taekwondo career but also they gave me a way to give back to other Soldier athletes involved in the program. It has been a pleasure so far and I am looking forward to the rest of my Army career," said Jennings.
Jennings credits Bartlett for helping him improve the team and his military career.
"Bartlett has helped me tremendously. He has guided me and pushed me in the right direction to help these athletes get to where they want to go and where they need to be," said Jennings. "He has mentored me and taught me about Army culture as well and makes sure I am still progressing through the Army."
Jennings mentions that WCAP is a very unique opportunity for Soldiers in the Army and the program offers structure and guidance.
"Watching the Soldier athletes progress and improve is the best of both worlds. The military offers them a way to serve their country and points them in the right direction as well as building their sports career," said Jennings.
The team is currently preparing to qualify for the 2020 Olympics with the help of their coaches.