Drive. Desire. Destiny: Promoting goodwill on the mat

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Most people would consider the idea of getting twisted into a human pretzel by another human being to be something worth avoiding, but there’s a group of service members who have actively sought out the opportunity. They are members of the Armed Forces Wrestling teams.

The Armed Forces Sports program is the culmination of each branch of services’ sports and fitness program. Service members participate and compete at unit level intramurals and advance to the All-Service level where they can compete in national and international competitions.

“The thing is I never give up. I went through a lot of trials to get here and to be on this team, but that’s just the Marine Corps spirit. We never give up.” said Marine Sgt. Raymond Bunker, from Villa Park, Ill., a member of the All-Marine Wrestling team. “The Marine Corps means everything to me and so does wrestling, so this has been my calling.”

Bunker, who participated in the 2018 Armed Forces Wrestling Championship, said that his dream, like that of many other wrestlers, is to participate at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. Armed Forces Sports provides an avenue for military service members to participate in national and international competitions including the International Military Sports Council (CISM) and the Olympics.

“I had success at the collegiate level, so I’ve been transitioning to the international level,” explained Army 1st Lt. Matthew Brown, from West Valley City, Utah. “This is the best avenue for that. This program provides me with an opportunity to earn medals and represent the Army as well as the United States.”

Brown, a former NCAA Division I champion at Penn State, won bronze in the men’s freestyle match at the 2017 CISM Military Worlds in Lithuania. While those statistics may sound intimidating, every wrestler agrees that it’s not impossible to become a member of your branch’s team.

“The best thing to do is get on your training program as early as possible,” said Air Force Capt. Brandon Mueller, from Greenleaf, Wisc. “Get your application in as soon as you can and start preparing for the training camp. If you come to the camp and you’re not ready, you’re bound to get hurt but proper groundwork will set you up for success.”

While each branch has a different selection process, the wrestlers agreed that the hard work and dedication that they put into the team has a multitude of benefits.

“When we come out here we don’t only talk about wrestling because we all have careers to
go back to once the match is over,” said Navy Petty Officer Antonio Harris from Dover, Del. “We talk about things that will help each other progress in our careers. Once we go back to our parent commands, we have to perform well there so it’s important for us to use the events as another learning opportunity.”

From shared learning experiences to career development, the ability to train with the different branches has helped these wrestlers grow in a number of ways.

“It’s definitely a unique leadership experience,” said Mueller. “I really enjoy that because I get to interact with a lot of different folks. The wrestling mindset is really applicable to a lot of different areas like pushing through adversity. It doesn’t matter if it’s a problem you’re dealing with like program management or an issue on the wrestling mat, it can help you figure out how to focus on those issues and overcome them.”

Most of the wrestlers enjoy their military careers, but wrestling provides them more chances to represent their country on a larger scale. It’s an honor that each wrestler takes to heart.

“I just want to do this as long as I can,” said Bunker. “It’s a lifestyle that I’m very passionate about. My Marines are my family and I am truly blessed to be a part of this team.”

Armed Forces Sports goal is to promote goodwill and to encourage physical fitness through their highly competitive sports program. The wrestlers that competed at this year’s Armed Forces Wrestling championship who finished in the top three of the Greco-Roman weight classes will qualify to compete at the U.S. Greco-Roman World Team Trials in Tulsa, Okla., in June. If the wrestler qualifies there, they will earn a spot on Team USA and represent the United States at the Wrestling World Championships in Budapest, Hungary this October.

Service members interested in competing at Armed Forces Championships or as part of the U.S. Armed Forces Teams can apply through their respective Service Sports Office. For eligibility information and how to apply, members can visit http://armedforcessports.defense.gov/For-Athletes/How-to-Apply/. n