News: Coast Guardsman makes a bump on the All-Navy Volleyball Team
ALAMEDA, Calif. - Kerry Karwan loves volleyball. She keeps one close to her at work. She has been playing competitively for the last 23 years, and she has sacrificed for it, stood extra duty for it, and has worked hard to be a part of the All-Navy Volleyball Team.
Karwan started with the All-Navy Team in 1998. A year later she was cut from the team but made it again in 2001. She played for 10 consecutive years and racked up four gold medals and six silvers in All Armed Forces Tournaments and silver and a bronze medal in international play. She has bumped and spiked her way across the world playing volleyball with the Navy, and in 2004, she became the first female from a team sport to win the Coast Guard’s Elite Athlete of the Year award.
At 37, she is older than the average player, typically in their mid-twenties, but this year she has been sidelined due to a shoulder injury.
At 5 foot 7 inches tall the Coast Guard lieutenant commander has an excited passion for the game. Her face lights up when she talks about it. She calls it her thing, her Zen moment, when stress disappears and she can get lost in the sport she loves.
She started playing in high school, but it was at the Coast Guard Academy that her love for volleyball gained real momentum. The All-Navy Team has given her the opportunity to build relationships with other players in different services, and she credits it with making her a better officer.
“I tend to think of everything I do as a team activity,” said Karwan. “I am not an individual in the Coast Guard. We are all here to serve the taxpayers and get the mission done.”
This year’s 12-person team is made up of Navy, Coast Guard, and Marine Corp players, and it is part of a larger military morale program called Armed Forces Sports.
It’s not just volleyball that Karwan is passionate about. It’s the entire Armed Forces Sports program. Karwan learned about the program from her father, a West Point graduate and gold-medal wrestler for the Army.
There are 25 different individual and team sports for military athletes to participate in, including bowling and tae kwan do. Athletes try out to compete on their respective service’s team, and then face the other military teams in tournament play. Some teams go on to play in international tournaments.
“Brazil and China have the best teams,” said Karwan regarding the international volleyball teams she has faced. Additionally, she has also competed against teams from China, Greece, Brazil, Germany, the Netherlands, Canada, and Italy.
According to the Armed Forces Sports website, Gen. Omar Bradley officially approved the program -- originally called Inter-service Sports Council -- in 1948. It was comprised of service members from the Army, Navy and Air Force. At the same time, the International Military Sports Council was created by founding members from Belgium, France, Denmark, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.
The idea is not only to promote health and wellness among the troops, but also to build inter-service and international relationships. It provided military athletes a chance to compete, and gave the services an opportunity to recruit and retain athletic members.
In order to even try out for a service’s team, the candidate must have command endorsements and be considered an amateur athlete under the rules of the national body governing of the individual sport. The athletes’ travel and participation costs are paid for out of the services’ morale funds.
Karwan takes pride in the fact that she has been able to educate her friends and shipmates about the program. At one point, half of the volleyball team was made up of Coast Guard players she recruited. In 2007, Karwan was giving training at Station Wrightsville Beach when she spotted a young Coast Guard seaman with an athletic build named Syreeta Bromfield.
Bromfield, as it turned out, played professional basketball for the Detroit Shocks and spent some time coaching as well. Karwan introduced her to the program, and she has gone on to represent the Coast Guard on the All-Navy Basketball Team in South Korea and won the title of Elite Athlete of the Year award three times.
Bromfield called the whole sports program an eye-opening experience, and she said she is thankful for opportunity to play basketball while serving her country.
“It is a great incentive to stay in the service, and I probably would have never heard of the program if I hadn’t met her,” said Bromfield of Karwan.
Karwan is preparing her team for this year’s All Armed Forces Tournament is slated for the first week in May in Salt Lake City.
Karwan said she is excited to be coaching, but added, “It’s going to kill me not to play.” However, she added with a determined finger point, “I am going to play next year.”