News: NCO mentors Soldiers, athletes
Story by Spc. Thomas Duval
FORT WAINWRIGHT, Alaska - His hairless head reflects the small room’s fluorescent lights. Sweat flows from his pores and his skin tone transforms from a light peach to fire red. Years of serving his country have etched lines of age across his face. It’s a facial feature that only adds to the confidence that his rank radiates to the soldiers gathered around watching as he submits his next student.
For the students it’s just another day of combatives training at Fort Wainwright, but for the man teaching the soldiers it’s years of dedication, determination and a road rarely spoken of that has brought him to this point.
For the last 10 years Sgt. 1st Class Westley Bockert has dedicated his time to bettering the lives of soldiers and students in the Fairbanks community from the skills he’s learned as a leader on the battlefield as well as the wrestling mat.
A native of Toledo, Ohio, “Wes” was a normal boy living a normal childhood. It wasn’t until the Ohioan went to Sylvania North View High School that he realized he was a champion in the making.
“Wrestling was interesting because of its intensity and it’s a sport with a work ethic like no other,” he said.
Inspired by his grandfather’s Christian faith and the motivation of his high school wrestling coach the gentle giant began his dominance on the wrestling mats at an early age. By the time he entered his junior year his competitiveness and desire to win reached a peak as he took home second place at the national level.
His competitive nature wouldn’t let him be content with being just a runner-up. Bockert continued to dedicate his time to becoming a champion and was named to the All-American Team five times.
His dream of being a champion had become a reality, but the joy of being at the top was short lived.
“I truly believe that everything you take out of a sport you should put back into it at some point, and I just felt like I was at that point,” he said. “I realized I needed to start making champions instead of being a champion.”
And making champions is exactly what Bockert did. Since coming to Fort Wainwright in 2000 the Iraq veteran has dedicated his time and effort, not only to his country, but also to the Fort Wainwright and Fairbanks communities.
“It’s about taking kids home that aren’t your own and making them do their school work when no one else will,” Bockert said. “Being able to give kids money on trips for food because the parents didn’t have any to give. That’s what it’s all about… and I think that these kinds of things are what make a coach a leader, because people follow leaders who care.”
His passion for the soldiers and students from the local Fairbanks high schools has made an immediate impact on those around him.
“He is not going through the motions or mimicking a manual, he is teaching something he loves to do and has put a great amount of time and effort to master over his lifetime,” said Staff Sgt. Joseph Rusk, a squad leader assigned to the tactical assault command with the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division. “He focuses his time and effort on a team’s success instead of an individual’s success.”
As the head coach of Lathrop High School’s wrestling team and a head coach with Fairbanks’ interior youth wrestling program, Bockert’s “team first” mentality has earned him the honors of being named coach of the year three times.
“Teaching and coaching is just something I enjoy doing,” Bockert said. “I feel my experience has given me a great opportunity to teach those around me and provide them with the tools to succeed.”
A highlight for Bockert came in 2006, when he mentored and coached Alaska’s first and only freestyle and Greco wrestling national champion, Dallas Seavey.
When you coach and teach high school students it’s just as much of an adrenaline rush watching them compete as when you’re competing yourself,” Bockert said.
With his competitive apple not falling far from the tree, the father of six doesn’t have to look far for a champion. In fact there are six of them under the same roof.
All of Bockert’s children have been to the state championships in wrestling, including his four daughters.
“My wife and I get pumped,” he said.
At the age of 11, Bockert’s daughter Kaylee has won six state championships including three girls’ state championships, two boys and girls’ state championships and one boys’ and girls’ freestyle state championship. Although they have huge shoes to fill, Bockert’s children seem to be right on track to carry on their dad’s legacy.
“My wife and I are always proud of our children and we never pressure them to wrestle… if they say they don’t want to wrestle that’s it they don’t have to. We don’t push it,” he said.
Bockert admitted there will be a time when he will leave the Army to spend more time with his family, but he said it will be a long time before he can step away from the mat.
“I love the Army and after I retire I want to be where my family is and be able to coach and mentor them as they grow up,” he said.
Even with a laundry list of achievements tucked under his blue belt in jiu-jitsu, Bockert is still quick to give the recognition to someone else.
“My wife is always supportive… when I’m deployed she dedicates her time and effort to keeping the kids in wrestling and still makes every wrestling meet. I go to PT then work and then I coach until 8 p.m. and she never complains.” he said. “She often reminds me that we are setting the example for the kids to give back and mentor others in need.”