Editor's note: This story was updated Jan. 29 to include responses from Marine Corps Manpower and Reserve Affairs.
The Marine Corps' Male Athlete of the Year expected to battle in August during the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where he is favored to win a medal. What Capt. Bryce Saddoris didn't see coming was the battle to save his Marine Corps career.
The Marine Corps' Male Athlete of the Year has been facing the fight of his life. This battle did not take place in the Summer Olympics, where Capt. Bryce Saddoris is favored to medal. It was a fight to keep his Marine Corps career.
Marine Corps Times first learned of Saddoris' predicament in mid-January and submitted queries about the captain's situation and the career designation process as a whole. Saddoris got word Jan. 21 that he'd get to remain in uniform.
"Through another medium, leadership was made aware of the situation the same day as the Marine Corps Times media query," said Maj. Rob Dolan, a spokesman for Manpower and Reserve Affairs. "Other authorities out there were exercised to career designate Saddoris due to the context of the situation.
"We've got a good Marine officer who was put in a billet based on his unique athletic abilities to perform on the world stage, representing the U.S.A. and all service members. ... Based on his capabilities, we feel he is just as competitive as his peers and will have ample time to mature in his [military occupational specialty]."
Marine Capt. Bryce Saddoris, left, earned a silver medal at the July Pan Am Games in Mississauga, Ontario.
Photo Credit: AP
In an interview with Marine Corps Times before he found out he'd get to remain in uniform, Saddoris said the months-long plight made him feel powerless.
Indeed, the odds are stacked against him, but don't count him out just yet.
"When I am out there in the middle of a match, I have a say so. Right now, I really don't," he said. "That is frustrating. I could just throw my hands up and quit, but that's not me. I'm down, but I'm not out."
'I am a Marine first'
But in his mind, such titles come second to that of Marine.
"I would be happy to stay with the team and help develop up-and-coming Marines, I would be happy going to the fleet. Whichever way it goes, I am comfortable with that."
Capt. Bryce Saddoris, a supply officer and officer-in-charge of the Marine Corps' wrestling team was nearly forced out of the Marine Corps after being named the service's top athlete.
Photo Credit: Marine Corps
In this latest round, the Officer Retention Board selected 564 of 667 officers for career designation. Quotas were set at 95 percent of qualified and eligible aviation officers, 80 percent in aviation support, 80 percent in combat arms, 80 percent in combat service support, and 85 percent in law.
The 103 who were not selected still had one more shot, as 20 meritorious quotas were allocated to Marine Forces commanding generals. Only three officers were nominated, and all were approved, according to personnel officials. Saddoris' command said they submitted a meritorious package, but he learned in late December that he would not nab one of the spots.
"Captain Sadorris' recommendation for meritorious career designation went up the chain of command and was not initially endorsed, so it went no further," Dolan said.
Capt. Joseph Bromen, the reserve, retention and release officer at Manpower Management Officer Assignment who is the ORB sponsor and oversees the career designation process, said the Officer Retention Board systems are "fair and equitable."
"This headquarters received and approved three [meritorious] nominations ... Capt. Saddoris was not amongst them," he said. said Capt. Joseph Bromen, Reserve, Retention, and Release Officer at Manpower Management Officer Assignment who is the ORB sponsor and oversees the career designation process. "At what point Capt. Saddoris' nomination was disapproved or negatively endorsed, I cannot say. I also do not know for sure what means the MARFOR CG's used to determine who they would nominate. In the end, I trust that they used a fair and equitable system."
Marine Corps Order 1001.65, does not stipulate the way in which commanding generals select Marines for nomination, nor does it stipulate the criteria for nomination other than the fact the Marine was screened and not selected on the last ORB.
Luckily for Saddoris, it didn't come to that.
Treat Marine athletes like musicians
The grappler also received high praise from Col. Chandler Seagraves, commanding officer of Camp Lejeune's Headquarters and Support Battalion. Seagraves said the young captain will succeed at anything, and is "exactly what we expect out of our Marine Corps officers."
The colonel is concerned about the message sent to young athletes interested in military service, as well as those already in uniform.
Marine Capt. Bryce Saddoris, in blue, tries to throw Wuileixis Rivas of Venezuela during their gold medal bout in the 66kg class of the men's greco-roman wrestling at the 2015 Pan American Games in Toronto, Canada, in July.
Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images
It is a concern shared by Saddoris, who believes many Marines would excel in competition but are increasingly hesitant to step forward for fear of career ramifications. The Marine Corps athletic program is a good thing, he said.
"We are doing what Marines do and we are developing them, making them mentally tougher, more disciplined and harder working," Saddoris said. "The product that we give back to the units is much better."
"This guy knows everything about nutrition and physical training," Seagraves said. "That is a capacity he could provide to the Marine Corps down the road if he could stay in. Use his expertise and keep his leadership abilities, instead of just taking one measure of 'how is he as a supply officer?'"
"I understand we don't have the bodies to do that, but we can do better," Seagraves said.
Bromen, who oversees the career designation process, had a different take when asked if Saddoris' example might send the message that Marines should forego participation in service athletics.
"The Marine Corps is grateful for Capt. Saddoris' service," he said. "I am sure that Capt. Saddoris is also grateful for the opportunity afforded to him by the Marine Corps. He has had a fulfilling and successful tour of active duty service, and no doubt, has advanced his skills as a wrestler, a leader and a warfighter," he said.
"Contrary to what your question implies, I believe that Capt. Saddoris' service would be an example of the bountiful opportunities provided to Marines to participate in athletic activities," Bromen continued. "Capt. Saddoris wrestled at the Naval Academy, and after commissioning and MOS school, was afforded the opportunity to continue his wrestling career while being paid as a Marine officer on active duty. He gained valuable leadership experience, a college degree at a premier institution of learning, and had valuable support and sponsorship in continuing his wresting career. I know of no other program where aspiring Olympic athletes are afforded these opportunities.
"In addition, Capt. Saddoris earned the title Marine. His is, and will always be, a Marine. I think I speak for all Marines, past and present, when I say that I wish Capt. Saddoris the best in his future endeavors as a wrestler and a Reserve officer.
"I will be watching and cheering for him as he competes in the upcoming Olympics," Bromen said. "And when he wins, I assure you that all Marines will be proud of his accomplishment. It will not just be Bryce Saddoris that wins the gold medal. It will be Capt. Bryce Saddoris, United State Marine."
Going forward, Dolan said Saddoris will have to compete for promotion among his peers by returning to his primary MOS and performing the duties associated with that at a high level.
"If past behavior is any indicator of future performance, we are confident this Marine has the work ethic to continue to develop into a fine leader of Marines," Dolan said.
Marine and Olympic hopeful
Saddoris is no stranger to challenge, and he never backs down from a fight.
Despite the pain and double vision — and to the amazement of tournament doctors — he toughed it out to finish the match, losing 5-4.
When asked why he kept fighting, his response was simple: "That is what a Marine does."
Marine Capt. Bryce Saddoris waits for medical help after getting cut during his 66 kg gold medal bout against Wuileixis Rivas, of Venezuela, in the gold medal match in men's Greco-Roman wrestling at the July Pan Am Games in Canada.
Photo Credit: AP
"This Olympic spot is mine to lose," he said.
He puts himself through two rigorous training regimens daily, which total no less than six hours. These are fueled by a careful and calculated diet. Between wind sprints, he may toss around 100-pound dummies and belt out 120 pull-ups in 10 minutes. And don't forget the twice-daily, full-on sparring with Marines of similar strength and stature (there is no shadowboxing in wrestling).
Now he will get that opportunity.
Lance M. Bacon is senior reporter for Marine Corps Times. He covers Marine Corps Combat Development Command, Marine Corps Forces Command, personnel/career issues, Marine Corps Logistics Command, East Coast Marines and Marine Forces North. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.