Dad, Soldier, Reality Show Winner: One U.S. Army Sergeant Shares The Life Lessons That Made A Difference

A few years back, my 21-year-old nephew started talking about enlisting in the U.S. Army. But he did far more than just talk — he took the first steps, which for him meant committing to pre-dawn runs with a heavy rucksack strapped to his back. He was getting physically strong while determining why becoming a Soldier made sense for him, his future family, and the rest of his life. He wanted to join the U.S. Army because they help Soldiers of the past, present, and future through generous benefits, competitive paychecks, and limitless possibilities to become the best version of themselves and improve the quality of life for their families.

My nephew isn’t the only Soldier who sees these possibilities. Sgt. 1st Class Brian Colvin knows exactly how a career in the Army can support Soldiers and their families while taking them to delightfully unexpected places. Colvin first enlisted in the Army way back in 2004, where he quickly "fell in love with the Army lifestyle and just how important the job was." In almost 20 years since, he’s built a family, improved countless lives, and — perhaps the most surprising — taken home the top prize of a popular reality TV competition.

Fatherly sat down with Colvin to talk about his one-of-a-kind career and life experiences, plus how the Army helps him excel at his other great role in life as a devoted father to 4 kids. Here’s what we learned.

1. Growth Doesn’t Always Look Like What You Expect

After Colvin helped open the brand-new community hospital at Fort Belvoir in Virginia, he basked in the glow of making positive change in the world. What he didn’t know was that a personal life change was also in the works.

Colvin received an internal email that said — in his words — "Hey, try out for Special Operations. You qualify!” He took them up on it and became an Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) Specialist. While serving in this role, he got a second email encouraging him to become an Enlisted Aide and go to culinary school. And instead of respectfully declining because he was already on an established path, Colvin thought, “Why not try something totally different?”

A year later, he took the first steps into a whole new kind of basic training as a culinary student, where he eventually advanced to courses that taught classic French cuisine and techniques. This education led Colvin to his current role as the first EOD Specialist to serve as the Enlisted Aide and Estate Manager for the commandment of the U.S. Army War College. Today, he cares for an 8,156 square foot, artifact-filled Army manor, and is solely in charge of culinary direction for everything from intimate dinners to 150-person events which can include flag officers, elected officials, and foreign dignitaries.

2. Lessons Learned In Training Go Beyond The Service

Colvin was just getting used to his new job as a one-man catering and caretaking machine when another email arrived that would alter his life forever. It was an invitation to take part in Food Network’s Chopped: Military Salute. After encouragement from his wife, Colvin accepted and went on to win the competition — twice.

Colvin credits his success on the silver screen in large part to his Army exposure to multiple cuisines, ingredients, and cooking methods, plus the irreplaceable skill of knowing how to keep calm under pressure. Despite the 30 people with cameras on him at any given time and the surprise ingredients he had no experience with (guajes verdes and quail eggs, anyone?), Colvin’s training taught him to think fast and act faster.

"There is no preparing for something like this from a cooking standpoint, but with everything I'd done in the Army, it's taught me to take a step back, look at things objectively, and just chill out. We have this motto — ‘Initial Success or Total Failure,’ which can be applied to almost anything as long as you put in everything you've got.”

3. Find A Role That Supports Your Family

Like with any demanding and fulfilling career, finding balance as a Soldier can be a challenge. But what the Army affords is quality time without worry because, as Colvin points out, Army benefits extend far beyond Soldiers.

With great health insurance and life insurance policies, allowances for housing and food, and more, you won’t have to worry about making ends meet. In Colvin’s own words, “The Army is constantly working to help keep you level to a point where you don’t worry about your family being provided for.”

It's never too early or late to take the first step to discover the possibilities available in the U.S. Army, make your mark on the world, and provide for your family in a way that few careers allow. You may not end up winning a televised food competition like Colvin (or maybe you will — dream big!), but you will get treated to a wealth of knowledge, endless opportunities to grow, and support that sets you and your family up for a lifetime of success.

Learn how a career in the U.S. Army can help you Be All You Can Be.