There are many opportunities opening up for women in the sport of wrestling. One you may not have been aware of is wrestling for the military. Female wrestlers have been competing for the military in the World Class Athlete Program (WCAP) since 2001. The first woman to do so, was World Champion Iris Smith. From 200-2012, there has been a WCAP athlete on every Olympic team. Needless to say, the Army creates results. Jenna Burkert, who trains with the WCAP team at Fort Carson Army Base in Colorado Springs, Co, is one of the athletes who has taken advantage of this opportunity.
By Jenna Burkert
Making the best decision for me
I joined the military because I wasn’t happy about my training or my financial situation while I competed as a resident athlete at the Olympic Training Center. I knew about WCAP because of Iris Smith who was a world champ in 2005, and was still competing for the team. The Army program has developed women world medalist and many world team members, so their success was validated. In 2015 I decided to join the Army National Guard because it had a delayed entry. I shipped out to basic training May of 2016. This meant I could leave for basic training after the 2016 Olympic Year. I graduated my basic and AIT in October of 2016. I am a past a past world team member and am top three in the nation in my weight class, so I was immediately approved to be a part of the Army World Class Athlete program.
What is required
I can’t speak on behalf of the other branches of the military, but do your research to find what’s available. For the women, the army team is the most developed program. Within WCAP, there's criteria to get into the program. Typically the requirement is top three at the cadet, junior, or senior age levels, or if you have a world medal. This would allow you to join the Army Active Duty or National Guard and get on WCAP orders.
From there, the opportunities are huge. I get paid to do what I love, I get health insurance, my school is paid for, they even pay for my housing. All while wrestling, I am still a soldier, I still go to my military schools, I still learn how to do my military job (92Y-Unit Supply Specialist)
If you don’t meet that criteria yet, there's still a way you can join and develop. You can join the National Guard/ or Active Duty, and request from your unit to attend the All Army wrestling Team, which begins early January. The next step would be to get approved. Once you are here you would have to meet certain criteria so that you could stay longer. The orders usually keeps you at wcap at least until Us Open(Jan-April), then depending on if you qualify there, they would keep you until WTT(May/June).
How do you know if you are right for the military?
The Army is a great opportunity to further your wrestling, and to have the privilege of becoming a United States Soldier. They say some people aren’t meant for the military lifestyle, I just think it is all about your mindset. That’s why wrestlers thrive in all the military branches. For me, I believe in structure, loyalty, selfless service, so I adjusted extremely well in the military.
My greatest takeaway from joining the military is learning about my own resiliency. Basic training and AIT (Advanced Individual Training) was tough, but it made me so much stronger. Many people believed basic training would be easy for me as an athlete. I got through basic, because I leaned on my battle buddies for help. I quickly realized that it didn't matter how good I was if the person to my left or right wasn’t as strong. For me, a month after i got home from AIT, I was sent to the U.S Open to compete, I won that tournament after not being on the mat for 8 months. I had my Drill Sergeants to thank for that. I knew there wasn’t anything I was not prepared for. After all, six minutes on the mat, is nothing compared to my fellow soldiers fighting in the war.
Currently, my near-term goal for the military is to be promoted to Sergeant. First I need to go to Warrior Leadership School, and then to the promotion board. This will take about I’d like to keep climbing the Non-Commissioned Officers ladder for as long as I am in the army. While I am still competing, my goals for wrestling are to achieve world and olympic medals. I’d love to be the inspiration for other female wrestlers interested in joining WCAP. The Army is a great opportunity to further your wrestling, and to have the privilege of becoming a United States Soldier. Its a great opportunity that I know many women can benefit from.
Jenna’s steps to take to join WCAP
If you’re interested in joining WCAP, or just want to learn more about your options, communication is key and I can’t stress this enough. There are so many different options or ways about going into the army and wrestling for WCAP. First, contact myself or my coaching staff. If you meet the criteria of being top 3 in your age level (cadets, juniors, or seniors), you are able to join immediately. However, if you aren’t top three or have a world medal, there are still options for you:
You can join the Army National Guard in whatever state you live in. From there, you would go to basic & AIT just like every other soldier.
Once you are Army NG, you would do your military job one weekend every month.
Contact WCAP and tell them you are interested in the all Army program.
Submit your interest packet, and then once that gets approved, you would be on orders for approximately the next 4-8 months.
Even if you are not officially a part of WCAP yet, this is an incredible opportunity to train with WCAP and get better, which would put you in a better position to attain top three at the World Team Trials.
If you still didn’t reach that, you would go back home and attend your NG Weekend once every month.
Resubmit your packet and don’t give up!
Jenna Burkert is a 4x National Team Member, 3x Junior World Team Member, and a 2x Senior World Team Member. She wrestles for the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program and was 4th at the Military Worlds in 2017. She was 5th at the 2010 Youth Olympic Games as the only female representing the U.S.
Jenna wants you to reach out to her through social media! She loves working with and answer young athlete's questions, so send them her way!