It has been said, if you truly love what you do, you can’t call it work. Those who find their true passion are lucky, but to find that passion twice, at the same time — truly remarkable.
For Capt. Octavia Blackwell, a signal officer in the 92nd Civil Affairs Battalion (Airborne), life is truly remarkable. Not only has she found a calling in the military, but basketball has been the constant in her life and resulted in a world of adventure.
“Playing basketball has opened a lot of doors for me,” Blackwell said. “I was able to attend a division one school on full scholarship, travel across four continents, and live in three different time zones.”
Blackwell’s journey, in basketball and the Army, began right here in Fayetteville. Her mother and father, both preachers, raised a loving Family, which includes her four siblings. Blackwell found spirituality from the church.
“Growing up, all we knew was church. From singing, to playing instruments, leading prayer and even greeting at the door,” said Blackwell.
Blackwell first became interested in basketball during junior high. She started playing for fun, but coaches soon recognized her potential as a point guard and this led to a shift in her vision towards the sport.
“I was enthused by the culture that surrounded the game of basketball,” Blackwell said. “It wasn’t until one of the coaches at the school pulled me to the side and suggested that I really take the game seriously that I put my whole heart into it.”
That interest by someone who cared set Blackwell on a course to remain on the hardwood. She played varsity women’s basketball at Pine Forest Senior High School and earned a Division I scholarship to Campbell University, earning her degree in communications with a minor in sports management.
“My most memorable moment in basketball was signing my national letter of intent” Blackwell said. “I was told early on that I was talented but not talented enough; that the highest level I would reach was that of high school. Signing that letter was like a victory lap for me. Little did I know it was only the beginning.”
“Octavia came to visit our campus and we felt she would be a good fit for our program and institution at Campbell,” Wanda Watkins, then coach of the women’s basketball team, said.
“She was well-rounded, quick and athletic, a driven young lady who loved the game and was a hard worker on the court and in the classroom.”
Blackwell graduated from Campbell University in 2007 and was recruited to play basketball for the United States on a junior team in Melbourne, Australia. Her performance caught the eye of a German scout, and Blackwell found herself playing for Bonn, Germany in the fall of 2007.
With her contract complete, Blackwell returned to Fayetteville in the fall of 2008 and had opportunities to attend open scrimmages on Fort Bragg.
During one of these open scrimmages, the coach of the Fort Bragg’s women’s basketball team, affectionately known as the Lady Dragons, saw Blackwell playing and invited her to attend a team practice. Blackwell, while still a civilian, earned a spot on the Lady Dragons in 2009 and accompanied the team to the Capital Classic in Washington D.C. This was the pivotal moment Blackwell heard another calling — military service.
“My experience and exposure being around those service members really inspired me to join the military,” said Blackwell. “I wanted to serve on a higher platform that reaches beyond my community and has enduring effects.”
In 2010, Blackwell earned her commission as a 2nd Lt. in the Signal Corps and received orders to Fort Bragg. Basketball never far from her mind, Blackwell “officially” joined the Fort Bragg Women’s Basketball Team, now as a member of the US Army, and still plays with them today.
“My most memorable Army moment was commissioning day,” Blackwell said. “Serving is who I am, and on that day, I was welcomed into the biggest and baddest team on the face of the earth.”
Blackwell deployed to Afghanistan in 2012 with 508th Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. While the deployment placed her semi-pro career on hold, she could still be found on the hardwood, lighting up the scoreboard, during local competitions on the forward operating base.
In 2016, the head coach of the Carolina Lady Rush saw Blackwell play during a tournament and actively recruited her. The 5’5” point guard can be found practicing several days a week for both the Lady Dragons and Carolina Rush and has no plans to slow the pace.
Lighting has struck twice for this remarkable young woman and in the years to come echoes of her legacy will be heard around Fort Bragg and the surrounding community.