In honor of Veteran's Day, we are proud to present an example of excellence in Military service and in the sport of OCR - Cole DeRosa.
Many of you know of him from OCR races or his social media. (on Instagram @cjdrosa) At races, he is always happy to talk with fans or take pictures with kids. Cole is a VJ ambassador, one who makes us proud to be associated with him.
And now, in his own words, Cole:
What is your Rank and current role in which branch of the military?
I am an Army Lieutenant Colonel and have been in the Army for 25 years. Currently, I am assigned to the US Special Operation Command in Tampa, FL. At the command I am a division chief providing support to operations and plans.
How long have you been in the service?
What made you decide to join?
I joined the military mostly out of a choice of necessity. I didn’t feel like I was fully ready to commit to college, nor did my family have the funds to afford college after high school. During my senior year in HS I walked by an Army recruitment poster. On it was a picture of a Special Forces soldier rappelling out of a helicopter- I was immediately intrigued and thought that if I was to join the service it would to do something exciting, challenging, and tested me. I decided to join that week. Unknown if I would stay in service very long, but I knew the Army was a great way to fund my college once I decided the leave service. However, as you can see, I never left and I wouldn’t change one thing about my decision to serve. It has shaped me in many ways. The military has given me a sense of purpose, direction, ingrained important values, provided me some special experiences and opportunities, and developed me into successful leader and team builder. And as for college- well, while in the Army I not only attained an undergraduate degree, but received my Masters too.
Where have you been in active duty?
Being in the service, especially in the Army, traveling and moving to new locations is routine. I have had a unique military career, because I first joined the Army as an enlisted member -a Private- and now an Army officer. After progressing in the enlisted ranks to a Non-commissioned Officer or NCO, I was mentored about an opportunity to apply for Officer Candidate School (OCS) to become an Army officer. I completed OCS in 2002, and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Infantry. Throughout my career I have been on active duty at many locations. While enlisted I was at Ft. Stewart, GA, Ft. Benning, GA, and, Camp Casey, South Korea. As an officer, again at Ft. Benning, GA, Ft. Campbell, KY, Ft. Hood, TX, San Antonio, TX, Washington D.C., and USSOCOM, Tampa, FL. Outside of being stationed at those locations I have traveled to many other states and countries for training or exercises. Additionally, I have multiple combat and operational deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Jordan, and West Africa. So, if service and travel is of interest, the Army is a great way to have both.
How did you hear about OCR and what made you want to enter a race?
I was introduced to the idea of OCR by a co-worker in 2015. Spartan was having a Super race or 8 mile obstacle race about 2 hours away from my duty location and he was competing in it. He knew fitness was a key aspect in my life and thought it would be something I would like. I did a quick internet search about the race and noticed a lot of obstacles were similar to what I have done throughout my military career so it was familiar and I of course love and feed off competition. It was an easy decision to register for the race. I was seeking something different anyway, something to challenge me beyond the standard half-marathon and trail races I was competing in locally. After that first race I knew OCR would be something that I wanted to do more of- I was hooked! For me fitness is a lifestyle, and racing gives me something to focus my fitness goals. OCR is this great mix of strength and running. To be a top competitor in this sport you have to be good at both. Have the strength to move your body through time and space in an obstacle efficiently and be a strong runner despite the terrain or distance. I saw OCR as this way to adjust my training to make me more adaptable and ultimately making me more competitive in the unpredictable nature of OCR.
Do you think your military training helps with OCR? IF so, how?
No doubt my military training has helped with my success in OCR. The biggest way is the ability to tap into that developed GRIT! In the military you are often put in uncomfortable situations- both mentally and physically. To be successful you have to adapt to those situations. Every time you adapt to those tough times you just moved the needle on what you thought was once tough, setting a new level. In OCR no two races are the same and some are way more difficult than others. Having already developed a certain level of grit helps me mentally and physically endure in those tough OCR events. It’s all about being comfortable with being uncomfortable. The more times you can test or push your limits of uncomfortableness, the better you are in the long run.
How do you manage a full time job in the military with success flying around the country winning races?
I am fully committed to racing and competing at the highest level. However, working full time in the military and traveling all over the country to compete is challenging at times. How do I manage this? It comes down to proper planning, being efficient with time, and willing to make some sacrifices. One thing about being an Infantry combat arms officer and Army Ranger is fully understand and appreciating what it really means to have 24 hours in a day. You can accomplish a lot when you plan those 24 hours out fully- taking advantage of every hour. I am not trying to under-sale planning and executing combat operations or tactical exercises, but I treat race weekends like planning and executing a military event. It begins months before the race, backwards planning, laying out my “A” races then plugging in those “B” races. Once a race weekend arrives I know the hard work is complete- I have already trained hard, travel plans are complete, it’s now time to execute. Much like many times in my military career, a race weekend will require some sleep deprivation and tight timelines. I will normally travel after work on a Friday, getting into a hotel very late, sometimes only 2 hours before time to get up and prepare for a race. Race all weekend, then travel back home within an hour or two of the Sunday race in order to be at work early Monday morning. As I stated, I love to compete, therefore, losing out on some sleep is an easy choice. Some see it as a sacrifice, I see it as putting sleep lower on the priority list.
If you were to advise a younger person to consider joining the military, what would you say?
I know there are many youngsters that consider joining the military at some point. My advice to them is to do some research. Don’t listen to what someone says about the military who doesn’t have firsthand knowledge about service- seek out a veteran or talk to some who is on active duty. Also, understand that military duty is a choice and if open minded to adapting to that way of life it will absolutely be one of the most rewarding experiences you will ever have. You don’t have to spend 20 years in uniform, you can just do four years. In that time you will have been shaped in many ways and likely be able to walk away with a sense of accomplishment and belonging that not many people will ever know. Lastly, it can provide time for you to figure out what you want to do with the rest of your life at the end of service. Your service can provide you the means to go to college or walk away with a trade once you hang up the uniform.
Who is your personal inspiration? / who do you look up to or consider a mentor?
One thing about being in the military is there is no shortage of inspirations or phenomenal leaders. Throughout my career I have had some amazing mentors- each one I took something away to help shape my leadership style. I am often tapping into inspirational sources that comes from our many wounded warriors. If you have ever been to an OCR event and seen the OCR groups Operation Enduring Warrior or Oscar Mike, to name a couple, then you understand what it means to be inspired. These great Americans have so much grit, determination, and fight, despite having some incredibly difficult handicaps. Their drive and no quit attitude motivates me to no end. It is hard to make excuses for ourselves after witnessing what they can and do accomplish despite some severe setbacks.
Do you have any favorite books or movies you look to for motivation or inspiration when times are tough?
I have some to go-to books and movies when I need a little “pick-me-up”. Movies like Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers series, We Were Soldiers, and Black Hawk Down. These are just a few, but what I like about these books/ movies is the theme of overcoming adversity. For the most part these were ordinary men and women who were put in some tough situations only to perform in some extraordinary ways. It reminds me that times can always be worse and no matter the situation it will end and I will get through it.
Please list your OCR accomplishments:
Please list your best or favorite military accomplishments
One of my most favorite military accomplishments is being selected to compete and complete in the world’s toughest military competition - The Best Ranger Competition in 2012. The competition involves that year’s best 50 two-man US Army Ranger teams from across the service. The competition lasts 3 days- 62 straight hours- and involves agauntlet of physical, mental, and emotionally challenging events meant to test the mettle, technical skills, and tactical proficiency of the competitors.
Additionally, I am very proud to have had the opportunity and given the ultimate responsibility to lead a group of infantrymen in combat operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan. In my opinion, there is no greater honor.
And, what is your favorite VJ shoe and why?
Picking my favorite VJ shoes is quite the challenge. I can’t pick one, because each shoe has its place depending on the race location and/or conditions. What remains constant, is that VJ Shoes are always on my feet for OCR or trail running. But, if I had to pick one, I would go with the VJ MAXXx- it is so versatile and durable, meeting about 70% of my racing needs. I have raced and trained in these shoes from flat races in Florida to the mountains of Utah and California. They are true to size, with a little more toe room allowing me to bomb down rocky mountains or run comfortably for 13 mile races on flat terrain. The less aggressive lugs also work great at OCR stadium events. The grip was perfect on the smooth concrete and tight turns, always leaving me confident.
Thank you to Cole DeRosa for his service and his commitment to excellence in all aspects of life and sport.