Military professionals: the ultimate Olympian

  • Published
  • By Gene Kamena
  • Professor, Air War College
The pomp and pageantry in Great Britain's opening ceremony of the Summer Olympics provided a spectacular forecast of what will follow - friendly, but intense competition in summer sport. What could not easily be discerned from the opening ceremony is the amount of hard work, long hours and personal drive required of the athletes before they are good enough to make their respective national teams, and then be competitive on the global stage.

Many of the best qualities required of Olympic Athletes also are in members of our nation's military. However, in contrast to Olympians, members of our nation's military must maintain their mental and physical skills over long periods of time, sometimes throughout extended careers, never knowing when they will be called and tested.

Olympic athletes undergo intense training calculated to provide peak performance in time for their particular event in the Olympic Games. Disappointment usually results if athletes peak too soon or fail to achieve peak performance in time for their event. Moreover, since these skilled athletes know the time, place and event, specialized training routines tailored to target specific areas of the body become the regiment by which these athletes live their lives. Specialized nutrition, personal trainers, world-class coaches and the best training facilities all contribute to the attainment of peak performance in the Olympics.

It is not uncommon for years of training, extraordinary effort, extreme discipline and lifelong dreams to hang in the balance in events lasting mere seconds. Under the scrutiny of a global audience, the starting pistol and the judges' clock ultimately decide the athlete's fate.

People who volunteer to serve our nation by joining the profession of arms, in fact, have much in common with Olympic athletes: the need to perfect mental and physical skills, a fierce competition against others (in the case of military members, the competition is against people and groups who wish to do harm), self-discipline, and self-drive. In their respective groups, Olympic athletes and members of our military share a special bond and camaraderie, like-minded people enjoy the company of others who demonstrate similar values and attributes.

For as much as Olympians and service members have in common, there are indeed at least three stark differences.

First, Olympians know the date and time of their test, they train to peak performance accordingly. Military members must maintain their skills and be always primed, for they know not when they will be called and tested.

Secondly, there is more than one winner in Olympic competition, and bronze, silver and gold medals are awarded to the three best in their field of endeavor. There is no second place in the profession of arms, only winners and losers, the victorious and the vanquished. The price for not being the best is indeed severe.

Finally, the third difference is the recognition and benefits for coming in first place. The Olympians receive global recognition and often financially rewarding contracts for their efforts. The military professional is usually recognized by the chain-of-command for a good performance, might receive a medal, if warranted, and possible a promotion. The most valuable recognition for the service members is from their peers and family, for they know the real cost of being the best.

When we, and the world, pause to watch as medals are hung around their necks on the Olympic podium of victory; remember the other Olympians, young people in all branches of service who train and work day-in and day-out, ever-prepared to defend the nation.