FORT HUACHUCA, Ariz. -- Five years ago, Sgt. Charles Blackwell --then a civilian -- did something ridiculous. He brazenly walked into the University of Las Vegas boxing club and said he wanted to lace up the gloves. UNLV wasn't just any team; the University had just won the 2006 National title. Blackwell wasn't just any boxing hopeful; he was a novice with absolutely zero experience. He wasn't even a student, just a campus visitor to where his sister was attending.

The next semester, and only five fights later, Blackwell did something impossible. The newly minted UNLV freshman won a collegiate National title, decimating all of his opponents in the process. Despite his late start at 20-years-old -- conventional wisdom holds that successful amateur pugilists start years earlier -- Blackwell solidified his place within 24 months as a legitimate National contender through his in-ring prowess. Viewing the All-Army team as the next logical step for his Amateur ambitions, and the Army as the next step in his personal life, the Tucson native also enlisted in the Reserves to serve his country and to vie for a spot as an ambassador through boxing.

In 2009 he received his chance but fell short at the All-Army box-offs, losing to Staff Sgt. Myree Coleman in the finals. Blackwell still feels he was the better boxer at the time, but concedes his opponent made the most of the camp by listening to the coaching staff, which resulted in a win. A true prodigy, he bounced back to become the 2010 and 2011 All-Army and All-Armed Forces champion at 201 lbs. and now finds himself the veteran leader in this year's group.
"I've been in leadership positions when I have been here before, but those positions took a back seat once the [World Class Athlete Program] boxers arrived," Blackwell said. During an unusual camp that sees no World Class Army Athletes competing for spots on the team, the noncommissioned officer acknowledges this is his time to set the example and mentor his teammates.

"I am a real introspective person, and I've seen and felt everything there is to feel in this sport and people over-think this sport. If I can recognize something in a teammate that I have gone through, I will pull that boxer aside and talk to him, tell them it's going to be all right. Fortunately, I have enough clout as far as accomplishments in boxing that my teammates listen."
Blackwell's influence extends much farther than his ability to counsel his fellow boxers. On a team comprised primarily of new Soldier-Athletes, the coaching staff is the only remaining cornerstone to build on the Army's 20-year dominance of the Armed Forces competition. Blackwell himself is a staunch example of success that comes from applying their tutelage, and the living proof that their philosophy works.

"I tell these guys, 'listen, listen, listen.' [In 2009] I made a mistake; I thought I was big stuff, a college National champion who thought he knew everything, and I lost" Blackwell said. "Now, I tell these guys there is no way you can possibly have as much knowledge as this coaching staff. The boxer that listens will be the one that is successful."

Despite his leadership role, Blackwell himself is at a crossroads. His road to a three-peat is anything but decided. In his path return two other crafty veterans, Spc. Isaac Mendoza, and Sgt. 1st Class Robert Judge, a returning Soldier-Athlete from the 2002 trials that actually fielded the Army's new head coach, Staff Sgt. Charles Leverette, as a boxer.

He has even tossed around the idea of mixed martial arts in his future -- he holds ties to UNLV staple Ronnie Frazier, the striking coach to notables such as the Ultimate Fighting Championship Hall of Famer Randy Couture among others -- or possibly opening his own boxing gym in his home town of Tucson. Or, he might just continue his Cinderella story through the Nationals all the way to this year's Olympic team.

His weight class is currently still up for grabs after Olympic qualifier Michael Hunter voluntarily withdrew from the World Championships this year, and Blackwell has traditionally competed well with his peers on the National stage.

There is a lot on the line on Jan. 21 at Barnes Field House, and Blackwell is content to let his path unfurl the best way he knows how, in the ring.

"I think boxing, more than any other combat sport is truth, because what happens in those ropes is nothing but the truth. You can fake who you want to be, but it is going to come out inside that ring. Boxing is pure."