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Excellence in Service and Beyond - US Military Olympians

Athletes in Motion
Athletes in Motion
June 1, 2024
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The United States military has not only served the nation in times of conflict but has also produced some of the country’s most distinguished Olympic athletes. These individuals have excelled both in their service to the nation and in the Olympic Games, showcasing exceptional talent and determination, the living embodiment of American grit. Let’s explore the inspiring stories of these U.S. military Olympians who have made their mark on the world stage, embodying the spirit of excellence and patriotism. 

John Stefanowicz

Gunny John Stefanowicz didn't even know the Marine Corps had a wrestling team when he first joined. However, he sent shockwaves through the entire Corps in 2020 when he was selected as the first Active duty Marine member of the U.S. Olympic wrestling team since 1992. This was even more shocking as the Marine Corps had just announced they were going to dissolve their wrestling team. Imagine being the officer who made that widely-panned decision, and one of those pesky enlisted goes and makes the Olympic team. Afterwards, Stefanowicz was sent to the Naval Academy, to inspire the future leaders of the world's finest Navy.

Billy Mills

William Mervin Mills, (or Tamakhoche Thehila) a former U.S. Marine, achieved one of the most unexpected and memorable victories in Olympic history. At the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, Mills won the gold medal in the 10,000-meter run, becoming the only American ever to win this event. His victory is still considered one of the greatest Olympic upsets, as he beat the heavily favored runners from the Soviet Union and Australia. Mills, an Oglala Lakota Sioux, served in the Marine Corps, which he credited for giving him the discipline and resilience needed to succeed, which showed in his Olympic time of 28:24.4. His story has since inspired many, and his final sprint to the finish line remains one of the most iconic moments in sports history.

“Billy Mills of the United States is in there, a man no one expects to win this particular event." -An announcer during the race.

David Robinson

Known as "The Admiral," David Robinson is another notable military Olympian who served in the U.S. Navy before becoming a basketball icon. Robinson attended the United States Naval Academy, where he played college basketball and fulfilled his service obligation as a civil engineering officer. He joined the U.S. Olympic team and won two gold medals, first in the 1992 Barcelona Games and then in the 1996 Atlanta Games as part of the legendary "Dream Team." His presence on and off the basketball court has made him a respected figure in both military and sports circles, highlighting his commitment to excellence and service.


Chad Hennings

Chad Hennings stands out for his achievements in both the military and on the Olympic stage, although in a different capacity than most. Before his NFL career and after graduating from the U.S. Air Force Academy, Hennings won the 1988 Calgary Olympics demonstration sport of military aeronautics, an aeronautical pentathlon. Though not an official Olympic event, this competition among military pilots combines fencing, shooting, swimming, basketball, and an obstacle course, reflecting the skills a pilot might need. After serving multiple tours as an A-10 pilot, Hennings joined the Dallas Cowboys, winning three Super Bowls and continuing to exemplify the high standards of a military-trained athlete. Even the Cowboys can’t keep a good sailor down.


These athletes represent the spirit of the U.S. armed services, resilience, dedication, and the pursuit of excellence. Their stories are not just about sports but also about the profound impact of their military training on their performance and character. These military Olympians serve as role models, inspiring both their fellow servicemen and women and civilians alike.


Their legacies go beyond their medals and military honors. They showcase how skills and values learned in the military can translate into achieving the highest athletic accomplishments. For young athletes and military personnel, the stories of Mills, Robinson, and Hennings underscore the powerful connection between athletic success and disciplined military training. Each story is a testament to the fact that with determination and hard work, one can excel in multiple fields, making a lasting impact both in service and in sport.

Photo Credit: Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. John Stefanowicz suplexes Air Force Tech Sgt. Mathews Hanrauch during the 2024 Armed Forces Wrestling Championship at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. March 2, 2024. (DoD photo by EJ Hersom)

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