FORT CARSON, Colo. (Army News Service, May 10, 2012) -- Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond Chandler III recently gained insights into Olympic training from Installation Management Command Soldiers in the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program.
At first, the Army's most senior enlisted Soldier had to ask Soldier-athletes to join him across the main table at Wolf Dining Facility for breakfast on May 4.
"Lester, you didn't think you were going to be doing this, did you?" Chandler asked Spc. Justin Lester as he settled in with his tray.
"No, not at all, sergeant major," said the second-year Soldier, with a grin.
Within minutes, however, they were getting along like best friends.
Included at the table was Sgt. Jason Kutz, who talked about being at Fort Carson as a WCAP wrestler from 1998 through 2004. After that he took a coaching job at Lehigh University. He re-enlisted in the Army in November 2011, and returned to WCAP.
Also at the table was Sgt. 1st Class Daryl Szarenski, who told Chandler about leaving the Army Marksmanship Unit at Fort Benning, Ga., to make his fourth Olympic appearance this summer for the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program, based at Fort Carson.
A world champion in Greco-Roman wrestling, Sgt. 1st Class Dremiel Byers introduced himself as a two-time Olympian.
Sgt. 1st Class Keith Sanderson also ate with Chandler. He is an Olympian and instructor in rapid fire pistol.
"Rapid fire pistol used to be silhouette targets," said Sanderson, explaining his sport and craft. "I like it because I think it's the most combat-relative of the shooting sports, but they make it round targets now to make it where it's 'nice,' I guess."
Chandler then received a rapid-fire explanation of rapid-fire shooting from Sanderson, who can rapid-fire talk like there's no tomorrow.
Staff Sgt. Iris Smith, a 2005 world champion in women's freestyle wrestling, told Chandler that "my wrestling has been my life."
Sgt. Spenser Mango, a two-time Olympic wrestler, told Chandler that he, like Lester, joined the Army later than most, after acquiring a college degree and discovering wrestling success on the international level.
Spc. Kyle Heath told the SMA that he was a professional steeplechaser before joining the Army as a distance runner in track and field.
"Now what exactly is the steeplechase?" Chandler asked. "That's through the woods and whatnot, right?"
"Steeplechase is on the track," Heath replied, while other Soldiers muffled their chuckles.
"Forgive me, I'm ignorant of that," Chandler said. "But isn't it through the woods?"
"No, that's more like cross country," Heath said. "But we do have barriers and one water pit."
WCAP assistant boxing coach Staff Sgt. Charles Leverette introduced himself as being "from God's Country, Alabama," which elicited a round of laughter from the room.
"I just got selected to be one of the Olympic coaches, along with our head coach Basheer Abdullah," Leverette said. "It's just great to be here."
Leverette was getting set to jet to China with the U.S. Women's Boxing Team.
"I had no idea, sergeant major, no idea," Leverette said. "When I go back home, it's funny to sit around and tell stories about the places I've been, being from a little small town in Alabama, so it's very exciting."
"Yes, we're very privileged when we serve, the things we get exposed to and the opportunities that we have," Chandler said. "It's pretty cool. Just like meeting y'all today. It is, you know, pretty amazing. Who would've thought? I never would have thought I would be in a dining facility at Fort Carson, Colorado, hearing about you and your athleticism.
"So it's pretty amazing. You're amazing folks," Chandler said.
Chandler was even more amazed when he heard some of the wrestler's tales about cutting weight, a concept few other athletes in the world ever have to grasp.
"The weight cut is a big deal in our sport," Lester explained. "It's like a whole 'nother opponent. For most of us, it's usually our toughest opponent because that's what you deal with for two straight months, getting your weight down. Then the wrestling part is the easy part. That's the fun part. After you make weight, it's like everything else is lifted off your shoulders, sergeant major."
Byers, who wrestles at 264.5 pounds, makes Lester's cuts resemble child's play.
"I weighed in Friday at 264 and by Saturday I was 295," Byers said. "Then the last time I checked, I was 303. When my weight gets up that high, my breathing changes and everything, then it starts falling off again. When we do the workouts, though, one hour of cardio, I can drop seven or eight pounds in one hour. We'll get it done about three times that day."
Lester revealed that he has been competing for 21 years.
"How old are you?" Chandler asked, with a look of amazement.
"28, sergeant major," Lester replied.
"I was going to say, you don't look much older than 21," Chandler said.
"Thank you, sergeant major," Lester said.
It was a week of mutual thanks shared between WCAP Soldiers and Army senior leaders who support their program. On Tuesday, several of the world-class athletes had lunch with Secretary of the Army John McHugh at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.
"I think it was a very special week for the Soldiers," said WCAP Chief Willie Wilson. "In the last couple of weeks, they've had some success as far as qualifying for the 2012 Olympics. They were very excited about that. They had an opportunity this week to share with the senior leadership of the Army.
"The Soldiers had a great time talking with the sergeant major of the Army, educating him on their sport. The Soldiers were all glowing because it was an honor for them to be able to talk to the most senior enlisted Soldier in the Army, tell him what they do, and for him to share his appreciation for their professionalism, about their work ethic, how their conduct is above reproach. It was just a special day."
All in all, Wilson said the program is in great shape with the 2012 London Olympic Games looming over the horizon.
"I think this is a great program for the Army," he said. "We've obviously placed more Soldiers on the Olympic Team than this program has every placed. We have more World medalists than we've ever had in this program. We have, I think, nine Olympians right now. This program has never had those types of numbers.
"We have a gold medalist in the program, a silver medalist in the program, and a bronze medalist in the program. This program has never had that caliber of athletes. I think this program is in the best position it's ever been, as far as producing Olympians, and as far as results."
Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III
Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III on Facebook
U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program
Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III on Twitter