Saturday, December 18, 2010

Bobsledder Chose War to Repay the Army

Bobsledder Chose War to Repay the Army

Napier, a sergeant in the Vermont Army National Guard, returned to competition this month, just 16 days after coming home from a six-month tour in Afghanistan.

“Sometimes I dream that I’m back in Afghanistan going on missions,” said Napier, 24, who served with the 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team. “But it’s completely normal to have those sleep problems after what I’ve been through, so I’m O.K. with that. I know those dreams will fade with time. Bobsled keeps my mind busy, and that’s a good thing.”

His unit was based in the turbulent southeast, near the Pakistan border. Yet it was by choice — not by obligation — that Napier ended up there.

Through the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, he was in the Army’s World Class Athlete Program, which gives Olympians and elite Olympic hopefuls full Army salaries and benefits as they train. In turn, those athletes promote a positive image of the military, helping with recruiting.

But for Napier, being an Army promoter simply was not enough. In a move Army officials say is rare, he asked to be released from the World Class Athlete Program for the opportunity to join his National Guard unit in Afghanistan.

In Vancouver, he finished 10th as the driver for the USA-2 two-man bobsled, but his sled crashed during the four-man event, and he did not finish. Even during the Olympics, he dreamed of becoming “a real soldier,” he said, to repay the Army.

Napier said he could not forget how Capt. Brian Freeman, an American former bobsled athlete, was killed in Iraq after being taken hostage in 2007. Freeman’s death, Napier said, was additional motivation for him to serve.

“I just kept asking to go because I couldn’t get away from the guilt of being here while other guys were over there fighting,” Napier said.

First Sgt. Christopher Button, who helps run the World Class Athlete Program, said he was impressed with Napier’s enthusiasm but warned him to be careful of what he asked for.

“I don’t have people knocking down my door to go,” Button said, adding that one of Napier’s Olympic teammates, First Lt. Chris Fogt, was serving in Iraq now.

Napier’s life had been built around the close-knit community of bobsledding, with the war a world away. He grew up with the sport. His father, Bill, who died of cancer in 2005, was a bobsled driver from the 1960s to the ’80s and later became president of USA Bobsled and Skeleton, the sports’ national governing body.

John’s mother, Betsy, also drove bobsleds in her day. She is volunteering at this weekend’s World Cup event, where she is the unofficial den mother for the competitors.

The Napiers called Schenectady home but spent many weekends at their Lake Placid cabin on Bobsled Run Lane, the street that leads to the track here.

By the time John was 8, Bill Napier was teaching him how to drive a bobsled, propping him atop a telephone book so he could see. Napier later become one of the best drivers in the country in a sport in which the sleds often scream down the track at 85 to 90 miles an hour.

“My dad was a former Marine, a tough son-of-a-gun, so that was a lot to live up to,” said Napier, now 6 feet 3 inches and 205 pounds.

John Napier joined the National Guard in 2006 for the money. His father had just died and the family was in debt from financing John’s bobsled career. Napier was accepted into the World Class Athlete Program two years later, and a huge financial burden was lifted.


You should go to the NY Times story on the above link and read the entire story, this is a story of a real patriot and should be an inspiration to all Americans, he didn't have to do this, he insisted and that say's plenty about his character, I am sure his father would be proud of him, despite the fact he became a National Guardsman rather than a Marine. He served his nation well, and that is all that matters.

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