There is a direct correlation between the things that need to happen for a team to win a match and for a military unit to accomplish a mission.
Determine the goal, motivate, train, execute.
Where are they now ?
This marks the 10th school year that Paul Valencia has covered high school sports for The Columbian. This is the first in what will be periodical updates on some of those who made headlines in Southwest Washington a decade ago.
Austin Luher has done that throughout his life, from his soccer, basketball, and golf days for Evergreen High School to the battlefields for the U.S. Army.
The athlete in Austin Luher has made him a better officer.
“The way I’ve approached the military is I’m kind of a team captain. I haven’t really strayed much from that,” Luher said. “Motivating people in sports is the same way you motivate people in the Army. I’ve treated all of my elements, company or a platoon, as I’m a member of that team. I’m an active member of the team and a team leader.”
In this case, he really is a captain, as in Capt. Austin Luher, U.S. Army. The 2002 Evergreen graduate has served a tour in Iraq as a lieutenant, then a tour as a captain in Afghanistan, running resupply convoys in danger zones.
He said he constantly draws from his experience as an accomplished athlete, his passion for competition, to lead his troops.
“When you’re playing sports, all you want to do is win,” Luher said. “How do I do that in the Army? Get the supplies to the guys at the right time. I want to get my guys home safe.”
In sports, once the goal is set, a team prepares to figure out the best way to accomplish that goal. Practice, then play. In the Army, it’s drill, then execute.
“That’s the exact approach I’ve had in the military,” Luher said. “It’s made me pretty successful thus far.”
Luher prefers not to get specific when describing his time in both war zones. As a lieutenant in Iraq, he figures he led about 500 convoys.
“Thank goodness we were successful and brought everybody home each time,” Luher said. “I’m proud of that fact. Whether that’s luck or skill, I don’t know.”
He also is not political, at least not publicly. He wishes the media would cover the positive and not just the negative associated with the wars, but he will not get in a debate about the decisions that led the military into battle.
“It’s not our job to agree or disagree with ... the wars,” he said. “Our job to follow orders and execute orders and make sure we bring home everybody safe.”
For Luher, that meant he had to focus on his specific part of the effort. Yes, to perform as a team. When he played basketball for Evergreen, he was an all-league point guard. A distributor, if you will, the assist man. He did not have to score all the points to help his team win.
“Running a supply convoy, how am I really affecting the bigger picture?” Luher asked himself. “I’m pushing supplies to the infantry guys. They’re able to sustain in the middle of nowhere. My supplies allow them to function out there, get intelligence, and in return, they’re able to take out bad guys. It’s very encouraging to know we helped. I’m very proud of the units I’ve been a part of and our efforts.”
Austin Luher is the second of Al and Gaylen Luher’s two sons, and both graduated from West Point. Older brother Gavin is now a major stationed in Germany.
Austin had always planned on following his older brother to the United States Military Academy. As a 2002 high school graduate, he also is part of the first class that volunteered for military service after Sept. 11, 2001.
Luher said he had his official visit to West Point a little more than a week after the attacks. He got a good look at Ground Zero as he flew into New York.
“If I had to do it all over again, I’d do it in a heartbeat,” Luher said. “I had my mind made up, but Sept. 11 made me want to do it a little bit more.”
Luher had more than Army training and college to attend to, though. He also played golf for the Black Knights.
“I worked my way up. I made the traveling squad my second tournament of my freshman year,” Luher sasid. “I slowly made my way up to the 1-spot my senior year.”
He won a tournament his senior year in 2006 and his name is listed throughout the program’s media guide for his many accomplishments. After graduation, he spent a year as an assistant coach with the NCAA Division I program.
From there, he was off to officer basic training and then a year in Korea. Later, he was stationed at Fort Collins, Colo., prior to his tour in Iraq. He returned to Colorado for a year then was in Afghanistan for much of 2011, returning in the fall.
In the middle of all of this, he was introduced to his wife-to-be on a blind date. The former Crystal Bullock is a 1998 graduate of Prairie High School. The two were married in November of 2009. They are proud “parents” of two red Siberian Huskies, Brutus and Winnie.
These days, Austin and Crystal are grateful to know that there are no immediate plans for Austin to deploy overseas. They live in Richmond, Va., as Austin completes a training course that should last until the summer. From there, they are heading back to the Northwest. The Army is paying for Austin’s grad school at the University of Oregon.
Luher will study sports business. No, really.
The plan is for Luher to then return to West Point to work in the admissions department as the congressional liason between the Army’s athletic department and Congress.
“Another job in sports,” Luher proudly proclaimed.
Perhaps one day he will be able to say the soldier in him made him a better athletic administrator.