Since 1948, 415 Army Soldier-athletes have been selected to either an American summer or winter team, earning 102 Olympic medals overall. The Army has established its own training centers for sports such as boxing, wrestling and modern pentathlon providing outstanding Soldier-athletes with the support and training to complete and succeed in national and international competitions, while maintaining a professional military career. All members of the Army (Active, Reserve and National Guard) are offered the same opportunity for selection. All Soldier-athletes are well-trained Soldiers first, having attended Basic and Advanced Individual Training for enlisted members or Officer Basic Course for officers.
A General Athlete
By the summer and early fall of 1902, George S. Patton, Jr., soon to be 17 years old decided he wished to become a soldier. Given the social prominence of the Patton family, enlistment in the Army was out of the question. The only acceptable career was the honorable profession of Regular Army Officer. The best road to that goal was an education at the Military Academy at West Point, for graduation meant immediate entrance into the Regular Army as a second lieutenant. The only problem was it was difficult to gain admission to West Point. Entrance requirements were rigorously prescribed by law. The student body was extremely small, but there was a way to get there.
General George S. Patton preparing for the 1912 Olympics.
Each US Member of Congress was entitled to have one cadet from his district at the Academy at any given time. In 1902, Patton’s father wrote a letter to Senator Thomas R. Bard, Senator from Southern California, requesting he considers appointing Patton to West Point. A pause here is taken to show Senator Bard’s important impact on the Armed Forces Sports Program. At Port Hueneme Naval Base, home of the Seabees, Senator Bard’s home, Bard Mansion, serves as the Officers Club on base. Port Hueneme has hosted several Armed Forces Championships in the past few years and Bard’s Mansion has served as the site of most of the organizational meetings for these championships. Port Hueneme also served as the site of the Conseil International du Sport Militarie(CISM) Village at the 1984 Olympics held at Los Angeles, CA.
In 1903 Senator Bard was constantly provided letters of recommendations for Patton to enter West Point, but he dragged the appointment process out and Mr. Patton elected to send Patton to VMI with hope he would eventually be appointed to West Point. On March 3, 1904, Senator Bard telegrammed Mr. Patton that George would be nominated to West Point.
During his career at West Point (1904-1909), Patton excelled in the sports of football, fencing, athletics and shooting. These activities would later define his time as an athlete at West Point. He graduated June 11, 1909.
His first posting after graduation was at Fort Sheridan. His time while there was uneventful as far as sports were concerned. His next posting was to Fort Myer, VA. Patton had hardly mastered the duties of his new job as a quartermaster when he learned that he was being considered for a most interesting detail. The Fifth Olympic Games were to be held that summer in Stockholm, Sweden and he was being talked about as the Army’s representative in the Modern Pentathlon. Intended to test the fitness of the man at arms, the pentathlon consisted of five events: (1) shooting a pistol at 25 meters (2) swimming a distance of 300 meters (3) fencing with the dueling sword (4) riding a steeplechase for 5000 meters and (5) running a cross-country foot race of 4000 meters. The competition seemed made to order for Patton. He was an expert pistol shot, he had done long-distance swimming as a young man, he had been an enthusiastic swordsman and he had been a runner in track meets at West Point. Learning on May 10 that the preliminary decision had been made in his favor, he started training at once for there was very little time to prepare for competition. The competition for modern pentathlon started July 7 with shooting. Of the 68 competitors entered, 42 actually started and Patton placed fifth amongst them.