JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas – The Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers program saved Staff Sgt. Cody Mackall’s life.
Not once, but twice.
Mackall, the Department of the Army’s BOSS representative, is passionate about telling his story on how BOSS lifted him from a suicide attempt in 2016 and gave him purpose.
“In my 12 years of the Army, I’ve spent about 8 1/2 years in BOSS,” said Mackall, who enlisted in the Army in 2011. “There are times when I still struggle, but I now know that during those times you really have to reach out to people you need to lean on and don’t hide in the corner like I did. Whether I choose to stay in or get out, I will always keep BOSS in mind because, ultimately, it’s the only reason why I am still standing today.”
BOSS was founded in 1989 to respond to the recreational needs of single Soldiers ages 18-25, who make up 35% of the Army. Since its founding, it has evolved into a program that teaches life skills for new Soldiers and as a safe space for those Soldiers who are struggling.
“I could tell countless stories of Soldiers who have said the program has saved their life,” Mackall said. “Once we’re able to show that this program has saved more lives than people may know, it’s when people may realize that we’re here as that tool for Soldiers to have that release.”
IMCOM Command Sgt. Maj. Jason Copeland, who serves as the senior enlisted advisor for the BOSS program and is the representative between the program and the Sergeant Major of the Army, praises Mackall’s commitment and passion for the program.
“He’s very passionate about getting others involved and understanding they should be involved,” said Copeland, who as a directorate sergeant major met Mackall almost two years ago when he was going through the process of being selected as the DA BOSS Representative. “He’s a great mentor to those junior Soldiers serving as BOSS presidents. They have that same fire and motivation to convey the same message: ‘Hey, this is our program, and it’s only successful if we use it.’ We’re the bridge between the services that are offered and the actual Soldiers in assisting and supporting the units they belong to.”
Seeking a new path
Mackall, a native of Norwalk, Ohio, enlisted in the U.S. Army in 2011 after a semester at Bowling Green State University. An avid swimmer, he originally wanted to be a rescue diver for the Coast Guard, but a physical revealed a heart murmur and exercise-induced asthma.
Also, drug use was rampant in his hometown, and after seeing two of his friends overdose, he said he needed to leave before he went down their paths.
“The Army was next,” Mackall said. “It was really to get me out of a bad place that was north-central Ohio. The job market wasn’t the greatest. I was working at a local restaurant called Bob Evans to make ends meet. I wanted a better life option, to get out and see the world. Growing up, it was always, ‘Hey, what’s California like or what’s Europe like?’ I come from a town where you stay there your entire life or you leave and never come back.”
Mackall did his basic training at Fort Moore (previously Benning), Georgia, before he was stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, from 2011-16. He deployed to Afghanistan from 2011-12 and became involved with BOSS after returning to JBLM.
“I got involved with BOSS when we redeployed from our deployment in 2012,” Mackall said. “I was a company representative with my battalion. I kind of got seen from the efforts I was doing from the battalion, so I became a battalion representative soon after. Then my efforts got noticed from the brigade, so I became a brigade representative in mid-2012.
“In January 2013, I was taken on as JBLM’s BOSS team president and grew from there until I PCSd from JBLM in 2016. The original plan was to say, ‘Hey, my time with the program is done.’ I got to go back to doing infantry things, team time and squad leader time and all of those things an infantryman needs. That’s where the rocky road kind of starts.”
Overcoming tough times
Mackall PCSd to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, in 2016, and the unit he was assigned to deployed two days after he arrived. After his physical, Mackall underwent a medical procedure known as a UP3, or uvulopalatopharyngoplasty, which removed his tonsils and opened his sinus cavity.
“I was in a relationship for 2½ years, and I came out of the surgery to a ‘Dear John’ letter saying, ‘Hey, I have a better option,’ ” Mackall said. “Three days later, my girlfriend at the time got married to someone else. A lot of those ‘what-ifs’ came into play, and the few friends I had at Campbell kind of went off and did their own thing downrange. I was all alone.”
Mackall emptied his bottle of percoset, which he had after his UP3 surgery, into his coffee cup with the intention of ingesting the contents at Dunbar Cave, which is near Fort Campbell.
“As we all know, when things get bad, sometimes you resort to bad things,” Mackall said. “I remember telling my team leader technically, “Nice knowing you. See you when I see you.’ He didn’t know the full intentions of what I was really saying. I was capital D-O-N-E done.”
A phone call from a friend asking him to volunteer for a BOSS event and striking up a friendship with a veteran who shared Mackall’s same story ultimately saved his life and reinvigorated his commitment to BOSS.
“A lot of the senior leaders have asked me why the BOSS program is so important,” Mackall said. “It’s important for me personally and for a couple of the other Soldiers who share the same experience that I do. It’s because it is an out. It’s an alternate safe escape for the everyday stresses of the military life. I wasn’t very open with my story until the past couple of months. Nobody knew that I was struggling. Nobody knew that I was at the bottom of the barrel, going home, drinking whatever bottle was in the kitchen. I was just done.”
Neicey Davis, who was the FWMR BOSS Advisor at Fort Campbell when Mackall was stationed there, said Mackall's journey is a testament to the transformative power of support, camaraderie, and a strong sense of belonging.
“His story exemplifies the profound positive impact that programs like BOSS can have on the lives of our service members, and his story serves as a powerful reminder of the impact BOSS can have on individuals struggling with their mental health,” said Davis, who is now the FMWR BOSS Advisor at Fort Cavazos. “During his time in the BOSS program, I had the privilege of witnessing his incredible growth as a leader and his ability to overcome the mental health issues he faced.”
While Mackall is proud of how BOSS has evolved, he wishes more senior leaders could see the importance of BOSS to the Army.
“Yeah, we do things like get outside and do the fun stuff like go hiking, climb mountains, but it’s a lot of the little stuff that doesn’t get out,” Mackall said. “They don’t quite hear about the life skills or the community service. There is so much more to this program. It’s an enhancement to every formation, and its greatest potential value is the development of Junior Leaders and Soldiers."
Editor’s Note: For more information on the BOSS Program, contact your local BOSS Office or contact SSG Cody Mackall, Department of the Army BOSS Representative, at email@example.com.