Thanks to SSgt Seitz for this guest post about the Battles Won Academy. SSgt Seitz is a Officer Selection Assistant from Officer Selection Team Denver
One of the best things about the Marine Corps is the endless opportunities for personal and professional development. The Marine Corps has three missions
to make Marines, to win battles, and to return quality citizens to American society.
Most of the time this focuses on those in uniform, but the Marine Corps also understands it is in the position of being able to share its values with the nation as a whole.
The Battles Won Academy began with the inaugural class in the summer of 2017. As an expansion of the Semper Fidelis All-American Program, it’s purpose was to recognize young individuals who were successful on the playing field, in the classroom, and their communities. There are a lot of programs and awards out there that recognize these types of people, so what makes the BWA different?
A key requirement for nominees is that they must have overcome some kind of challenge, obstacle, or setback and succeeded in spite of it. Past attendees have battled with adversity such as homelessness, chronic illness, learning disorders, family loss, natural disasters, and immigration. Despite these challenges, they are varsity athletes, honor roll students, community volunteers, international ambassadors, and some have even founded their own non-profits.
Rather than heaping praise, certificates, medals, or accolades on these young adults, the BWA aims to equip them with the skills to take their accomplishments even farther.
The application window is open during the fall and closes on Dec 31. Applicants can be nominated by someone or apply themselves. They must be in their junior year of high school. Even though the Marine Corps is the face of the Academy, there is no requirement for attendees to be eligible for military service, or have a desire to serve.
The purpose of the event is to recognize their fighting spirit.
100 young men and women are chosen to attend and their selection is announced at student assemblies, sporting events, and other venues across the country. The other thing that makes the BWA unique is the recognition of mentors. Each student that is selected didn’t get there themselves. Throughout their life, they have had mentors, coaches, role models, teachers, and influencers pushing them in the right direction. Each attendee chooses a mentor to bring to D.C. with them.
The Academy is 3 full days of leadership, team building, personal growth, fitness, lots of laughing, and an overwhelming sense of “holy cow this is the coolest thing I’ve ever done”.
The All-Americans and their mentors are greeted at the airport by Marines in dress uniforms and escorted to their shuttle. The shuttle takes them to the JW Marriott hotel and they are checked into their rooms at a private check-in desk. Only a carry-on is required because each attendee is given clothes for the duration of the event. Just bring tennis shoes, underwear, and a toothbrush! That evening kicks everything off with photoshoots, dinner, breaking into teams, and getting to know everyone. As it was explained to the Marine staff members:
“The kids in this program are so amazing. They will simultaneously make you feel proud of our country, and feel like crap about yourself.”
And boy, were they right. There’s the young woman who had spinal surgery and went from not being able to walk to winning her first varsity match back on the court a few months later. There’s a young lady who immigrated as a refugee from Tanzania. Despite not knowing the language or the culture, she found a passion for basketball and volunteers with an organization that helps hospitalized children. Then there’s the young man who helped rescue his neighbors after a hurricane hit his hometown. His fighting spirit transfers to the classroom where he has almost a 4.0 and to the football field where he leads his teammates. With a room full of accomplished, smart, creative, and successful teenagers you would expect bragging, entitlement, or cockiness. Instead, you find the exact opposite. They are humble, welcoming, and friendly. Each of them is curious about others. Students and mentors alike mix and mingle, each sharing their excitement and eagerness for the days ahead.
The first full day of the Academy starts bright and early at Marine Corps Base Quantico.
Here is where they are introduced to the Marine Corps fighting spirit.
For the first half of the day, attendees experience how Marines are trained. They run the Marine Corps obstacle course, learn about the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program, practice their aim in the simulated marksmanship trainer, watch a K-9 demonstration, and get hands-on with tanks, aircraft, and body armor.
As they get back on the busses, you can hear the tired-yet-satisfied exclamations of “Wow! What a day! Wait… is my watch right? Is it really only noon?!?” More than one attendee came to the realization: “I guess this is why the military gets up so early. You can really get a lot accomplished!” The busses take them from Quantico over to the Marine Corps museum. Here, they can see the history of the Marines. They see the battles won, the challenges overcome, and the victories that have kept America free. Each student and mentor came away from the visit with a new understanding and appreciation for the sacrifices of Marines past and present. It also opened up new conversations between students, mentors, and Marine staff members. The day is wrapped up with dinner at the hotel and free time to explore Washington D.C. People that were strangers 24 hours earlier walk around the city laughing, talking, taking selfies, and sharing inside jokes.
The groggy requests for coffee from the day before have been replaced with boisterous laughter and excited chatter. Walking into the room where everyone is eating breakfast you can hear All-Americans swapping social media handles and mentors swapping coaching tips. It’s nearly impossible to pair up a mentor to a student, or even determine who’s on which team.
The whole Academy is a blending of cultures, ages, backgrounds, incomes, and lifestyles.
Rather than teenagers engrossed in their phones, you see young adults high-fiving over a game of ping pong or playing a quick game of cards. On the schedule for the day is a training session with the USA Wrestling Team. Some of the students and mentors had experience with wrestling, but most did not. On the day they arrived at the airport, many attendees said this was the event they were most nervous about. “I’ve never wrestled before”, “I’m too old to wrestle”, “What are they going to expect us to do?” were the shared concerns. Even though most were still a little nervous on Day 2, the dialogue had changed. “If I can do the Marine Corps O-Course, I can wrestle”, “Whatever they expect of us, I can handle it”, “I’ve never wrestled before, but I’m excited to learn something new!” Coaches and athletes of the USA Wrestling team taught them techniques and ran them through the exercises wrestlers do to stay in shape. At the end of it all, each team competed in a relay race using the elements they had been taught. Those who had wrestled before didn’t have an advantage. The competition was designed to push each individual out of their comfort zone, test their focus, and make them each a vital member of the team. No one person could win it alone. For the second half of the day, the competition was turned to compassion in collaboration with the Boys and Girls Club of America. Each team built two bikes and gave them to DC-area kids.
Afterward, everyone got to enjoy an up-close and personal demonstration from the Action Sports Association BMX riders. These X-Games athletes deliver powerful messages of self-esteem, hard work, determination, and having a good sense of humor. That evening, the All-Americans and their mentors attended a private party at the National Archives and heard from Harvard graduate Rye Barcott.
He spoke to them about the importance of choosing the right battles, and being relentless in the pursuit of victory. By the end of the second day, students and mentors were becoming fast friends through shared nervousness, sweat, excitement, laughter, and purpose.
As the students enter the final day, emotions were a mix of anticipation for what lay ahead and sadness for the end of the experience. The morning started with a workout led by Olympic gold medalist Ashton Eaton. With the Washington Monument as a backdrop, he spoke to the group about the importance of honoring the past with our actions. He talked about how
it’s important to use your gifts and talents to make the world better because the world needs each of our individual contributions.
With the group warmed up, Ashton kicked off the scavenger hunt through the National Mall. Equipped with a custom-made scavenger list, the teams competed to find landmarks, features, and facts about our nation. With the mindset of “leave it better than you found it”, teams also received bonus points for each piece of litter they picked up and disposed of properly! The final evening commenced with a banquet hosted by ESPN sportscaster Sage Steele. She led a panel discussion with NBA assistant coach Becky Hammon and Pittsburgh Steeler James Conner. Each of them spoke of their individual challenges and hardships, and how they overcame them and succeeded in spite of them.
The Academy is a whirlwind 3 days that brings high-caliber high school students together and equips them with the tools to be even better leaders and influencers within their community.
Strangers become friends, lives are changed, and everyone left better than they came. With the support and sponsorship of companies like MaxPreps, Nike, Under Armor, Wunderman Thompson, Intersport, and the United States Marine Corps, this event is first class in every way. For the students and mentors, it invigorates them to continue being pillars in their communities. For the Marines that attend as part of the staff, it reminds them why they do what they do. That America is a nation made up of people like these All-Americans. That the nation Marines fight for and defend is worth the sacrifices made. That the youth of America want more than just memes and selfies – they want to live a life of purpose and honor.
If you know a high school junior who has excelled in the face of adversity, nominate them for this event at www.sfaap.marines.com.