Face of Defense: Gold Medalist Enlists in National Guard
By Army Master Sgt. Corine Lombardo
New York National Guard
LATHAM, N.Y., Jan. 10, 2011 Justin Olsen earned a gold medal for the United States in the Winter Olympics last year. Now, as a private first class in the New York Army National Guard, he’s serving his country in another way.
Army Lt. Col. Steve Rowe enlists Olympic gold medalist Justin Olsen into the New York Army National Guard, Jan. 6, 2011. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Steven Petibone
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Olsen, a member of the U.S. bobsled team since 2007, enlisted here Jan. 6.
"I already represent my country," he said. "Now I have an opportunity to serve and represent my country at the same time."
Olsen will train as a human resource specialist for the Joint Force Headquarters after this season's World Cup ends. Once he completes his individual entry training, Olsen plans to apply for the Army World Class Athlete Program, which provides outstanding soldier-athletes with support and training to compete in national and international competitions while maintaining a professional military career and promoting the Army to the world.
"I hope to be selected and, as a soldier-athlete, I hope that I can give back as much to the program as they are giving me,” Olsen said. “My plans are to continue to earn medals and make a name for my sport and the program.”
Olsen began thinking about the National Guard when his fellow USA Bobsled teammate Mike Kohn, who was then a sergeant in the Virginia Army National Guard, told him about the Army National Guard and the World Class Athlete Program.
"He just sat me down and talked to me about it and said, 'Think about what you want to do with the sport and what you want to do with your career,'" Olsen said. "I've thought about it for a long time, and now is the right time for me."
Olsen made the World Cup team in his first season and became one of the nation's top bobsledders. He is one of two pushers on the four-man team.
In 2008, Olsen earned a spot on sled USA 1 with driver Steven Holcomb, winning two silver and two bronze medals in the first half of the World Cup tour. He also helped to push Holcomb to a first-place finish at the 2009 National Championships for four-man and a silver medal at the inaugural World Cup in Whistler, Canada.
At the 2009 World Championships, Olsen teamed with Holcomb again to win gold in the four-man and a Gold Medal in the 2010 Winter Olympics.
"The wealth and strength of the New York Army National Guard comes from the longstanding tradition of talent, abilities and dedication of our service members,” said Lt. Col. Steve Rowe, commander of the New York Army National Guard Recruiting and Retention Command.
“As a world-class athlete, Justin has distinguished himself as the best of the best and brings to us those exact talents and desire to serve, that we look for in any of our soldiers,” Rowe continued. "It's great to have someone who has already represented his country so well and we look forward to the contributions he will continue to make in his service in the nation and the Guard."
Selection for the Army World Class Athlete program is open to members of the active Army, Army Reserve and National Guard who compete in an Olympic sport and have maintained good military standing. National Guard soldiers selected are brought on active duty, and their performance is monitored for selection and attendance to required military schools to ensure they remain competitive with their military counterparts.
Since the program's inception in 1997, 40 soldier-athletes have participated in the summer and winter Olympic Games, winning gold, silver and bronze Olympic medals.
Since 1948, 615 Army soldiers have represented the United States at the summer and winter Olympics as athletes and coaches, earning 142 medals in a variety of sports, including bobsled, track and field, wrestling, boxing and shooting.