U.S. Army members at Fort Jackson want to be athletes

Marvin Carey, Jr., 33, (right) trains with coach April Moreland at Fort Jackson.  Courtesy Wallace McBride

COLUMBIA — The idea came to Marvin Carey Jr. on his first day at Fort Jackson in 2016, while he was driving in for processing at the Army’s largest training center. He saw the sign on the side of the road.

“Join the Fort Jackson boxing team,” the sign read.

Maybe Carey, who was a champion boxer at high school in Chicago, didn’t have to work a normal Army job, such as a military policeman or a weapons specialist. Maybe he could get back to doing what he loved.

Every year, as part of its recruiting efforts in South Carolina and nationwide, the Army tries reaching young people with the same idea that crossed Carey’s mind that day — that the Army offers more than active-duty assignments.

Along with the branch’s more than 330,000 members of its civilian unit, in which Army employees work administrative government jobs, scores more work in other vocations like sports or the U.S. Army band.

The Army, just in the past year, has reached out to more than 20,000 athletes about enlisting, with a pitch that the Army provides a pathway to the Olympics.

The U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program offers training to Army athletes in sports ranging from boxing to taekwondo. Through the program, the athletes also compete in national and international circuits. The program has produced 55 Olympians since its start in 1997.

Carey, 33, who also served at Fort Hood in Texas and Schofield Barracks in Hawaii, sees a spot on the All-Army Boxing Team as his first step toward going pro.

Throughout September, Carey and Fort Jackson’s Marcus Dorval, 30, from Newark, N.J., will compete in tryouts at Fort Huachuca in Arizona.

“It would be an amazing opportunity,” Carey said. “It would be a huge stepping stone to the professional level.”

Carey began training at Fort Jackson in 2016 after hooking up with the fort’s boxing coach, April Moreland, 36, a former All-Army middleweight. They work out four days a week, starting at 5:30 p.m. and sometimes going well after 8 p.m.

Carey’s worst days are when he can’t get to the gym because he’s held up at his Army day job. Carey — 6 foot, 3 inches and 237 pounds — handles processing paperwork for more than 250 trainees of Delta Company, 113th Battalion.

“It’s very frustrating,” he said. “Especially if something doesn’t get done, I have to let (Moreland) know I can’t get there.”

Moreland switched to coaching after boxing for the Army for three years. She’s also become a Fort Jackson recruiter, speaking to athletes at local high schools. And she’s always in search of young talent at boxing competitions in the Carolinas.

When she sees someone she likes, “We pull them to the side and say, 'Hey, do you want to do this for the next five to 10 years?'” Moreland said. “All right, here’s a card.”

Follow Joseph Cranney on Twitter @joey_cranney.

Joseph Cranney is a reporter based in Columbia, covering state and local government. He previously covered government and sports for newspapers in Florida and Pennsylvania.