FORT BRAGG, N.C., May 15, 2017 —
For Army Capt. Octavia Blackwell, a signal officer in the 92nd Civil Affairs Battalion (Airborne) here, life is truly remarkable.
Not only has she found a calling in the military, but she also plays basketball, which has been the constant in her life and has provided a wealth of adventure.
“Playing basketball has opened a lot of doors for me,” Blackwell said. “I was able to attend a division one school on full scholarship, travel across four continents, and live in three different time zones.”
Blackwell’s journey, in basketball and in the Army, began here in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Her mother and father, both preachers, raised a loving family, which includes her four siblings. Blackwell found spirituality from her church.
“Growing up, all we knew was church. From singing, to playing instruments, leading prayer and even greeting at the door,” Blackwell said.
Early Interest in Basketball
Blackwell first became interested in basketball during junior high. She started playing for fun, but coaches soon recognized her potential as a point guard. This led to a shift in her vision towards the sport.
“I was enthused by the culture that surrounded the game of basketball,” Blackwell said. “It wasn’t until one of the coaches at the school pulled me to the side and suggested that I really take the game seriously that I put my whole heart into it.”
That interest by someone who cared set Blackwell on a course to remain on the hardwood. She played varsity women’s basketball at Pine Forest Senior High School and earned a division one scholarship to Campbell University, earning her degree in communications with a minor in sports management.
“My most-memorable moment in basketball was signing my national letter of intent,” Blackwell said. “I was told early-on that I was talented, but not talented enough; that the highest level I would reach was that of high school. Signing that letter was like a victory lap for me. Little did I know it was only the beginning.”
‘She Was a Driven Young Lady’
“Octavia came to visit our campus and we felt she would be a good fit for our program and institution at Campbell,” Wanda Watkins, then-coach of the women’s basketball team, said. “She was well-rounded, quick and athletic, a driven young lady who loved the game and was a hard worker on the court and in the classroom.”
Blackwell graduated from Campbell University in 2007 and was recruited to play basketball for the United States on a junior team in Melbourne, Australia. Her performance caught the eye of a German scout and Blackwell found herself playing for Bonn, Germany, in the fall of 2007.
Blackwell, her contract complete, returned to Fayetteville in the fall of 2008 and had opportunities to attend open scrimmages on Fort Bragg.
It was during one of these open scrimmages that the coach of the Fort Bragg Women’s Basketball Team, affectionately known as the Lady Dragons, saw Blackwell play and invited her to attend a team practice. Blackwell, while still a civilian, earned a spot with the Lady Dragons in 2009 and accompanied the team to the Capital Classic in Washington, D.C.
Joining the Army
This was the pivotal moment when Blackwell heard another calling -- military service.
“My experience and exposure being around those service members really inspired me to join the military,” Blackwell said. “I wanted to serve on a higher platform that reaches beyond my community.”
In 2010, Blackwell earned her commission as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Signal Corps and received orders to Fort Bragg. With basketball never far from her mind, Blackwell “officially” joined the Fort Bragg Women’s Basketball Team, now as a member of the Army, and she still plays with them today.
“My most memorable Army moment was commissioning day,” Blackwell said. “Serving is who I am, and on that day I was welcomed onto the biggest and baddest team on the face of the earth.”
Blackwell deployed to Afghanistan in 2012 with the 508th Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82d Airborne Division, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. While the deployment placed her semi-pro career on hold, she could still be found on the hardwood, lighting up the scoreboard during local competitions on the forward operating base.
In 2016, the head coach of the Carolina Lady Rush saw Blackwell play during a tournament and actively recruited her. Blackwell can be found practicing several days a week for both the Lady Dragons and the Carolina Rush and has no plans to slow the pace.