Sliding Soldiers: US Olympic bobsledders John Napier, Chris Fogt to serve country overseas

By Tim Reynolds, AP
Wednesday, June 9, 2010

US Olympians Napier, Fogt called to serve overseas

Olympic bobsled teammates John Napier and Chris Fogt are changing uniforms for the next few months. The U.S. Army has summoned them to war.

The Vermont National Guard members — and USA-2 sledmates during bobsled season — have received word from Army officials that they are needed overseas, a callup that neither was sure would ever happen.

Napier is being sent to Afghanistan with the 86th Infantry Mountain Combat Brigade out of Williston, Vt., to work on security-related operations, and Fogt will soon arrive in Baghdad with a different unit.

“So excited about it,” Napier said Wednesday. “Chris and I are both so excited. We get a chance to go serve our country. It’s what we both wanted to do.”

Napier, a native of Schenectady, N.Y., has the rank of sergeant. Fogt, of Alpine, Utah, is a first lieutenant. Napier is the pilot of USA-2, Fogt one of his push athletes.

Both hoped to be deployed quickly after the Vancouver Olympics in February, in part because that might have allowed them to not miss the start of the coming sliding season. Things can change, but it’s highly unlikely that either will be sliding again for the U.S. before late December at the earliest, meaning they’ll miss the first half of the World Cup schedule.

The U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton Federation will give them waivers on to the national team, since they’ll miss tryouts and other team camps this fall. Napier is due to arrive in Mississippi for two weeks of pre-deployment training this weekend.

He is expected to be among the gold-medal favorites for the U.S. at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Missing a few races this year will not affect his qualifying for that or other major international events, especially since he’s already firmly in place as USA-2’s driver behind world and Olympic champion Steven Holcomb in USA-1.

“This is probably the only time in my whole career it would have worked like this,” Napier said. “Now that I am USA-2 and there’s been a few retirements, it’s the only time I would have a chance to do this and get away with it. It’s still a big risk, but it’s really a passion of mine to serve my country. They’ve given me so much. It’s really special and dear to my heart.”

The USBSF has long had sliders who also served as soldiers. Holcomb, who drove USA-1 to a gold medal in Vancouver — the first for the Americans in four-man, bobsled’s signature race, in 62 years — is a former member of the Army’s World Class Athlete Program. Napier and Fogt are both current WCAP members, which gets them, among other things, financial support to pursue their bobsled careers.

WCAP is touted as a way for soldiers to reinforce a positive image of the military, plus serve as role models for others.

“The higher-ups pulled some strings and made this happen,” Napier said.

Details of Napier’s exact role in Afghanistan are not being made public, partially for security reasons. Most of his duties are expected to take place on the Army base, not on the front lines.

Napier thought he would deploy in March, though he never got the call. He was also recovering from having nerve damage in his neck, an aftereffect of a scary crash that knocked him out of the Olympic four-man competition on the treacherous track at the Whistler Sliding Center.

“I gave up on it happening completely,” Napier said. “I started becoming content with being a soldier that’s not going to deploy in this war. I had to cope with that I would never get over there and be a real soldier.”

Last week, he got the call.

“I’m ready for duty,” Napier said. “I’m in great bobsled shape. Now it’s time to get back in Army shape. This is where I wanted to be. I want to be in Afghanistan. That’s where the war is right now.”

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