MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. –
She turns her head ever so slightly allowing her well-trained eyes to shift to the tiny target barely visible more than 300 yards in the distance. She focuses intensely, locking the formula needed into the recesses of her mind where many targets have been before. Her hands and fingers slowly tighten their grip and her muscles tense ever so slightly in anticipation of the violence to come. Her feet grip the manicured grass below as if they were not feet at all, but rather roots of an ancient tree unmovable by the forces of nature. Her mind settles and tunes out the whispers of the crowd behind her. A soft breeze briefly ruffles her shirt as it rushes past. Now is the time. She draws back…and with an air-splitting whoosh and a hard clank of metal she launches a golf ball high into the air, sending it flying towards its target at more than 100 miles per hour. She stands statuesque, quietly watching the tiny ball as it slowly fades into the distance before dropping next to her target, just as she envisioned mere seconds before.
This scenario has played out many times over the years for Army Reserve Lt. Col. Sunny K. Mitchell, commander, 3rd Battalion, Special Operations Command, Army Reserve Element, 76th Operational Response Command.
Mitchell’s lifelong love of golf has placed her on the All-Army Golf team 14 times over the years and she walked away with a win seven times. She has also won numerous other trophies and prestigious awards for her golfing achievements as she pursued her passion across the country and around the world.
That fiery passion began more than 23 years ago during her junior year at Robinson High School in Tampa, Florida.
“I just wanted to play two sports in a season,” said Mitchell, who was already heavily involved in varsity basketball, cross-country and track at the time. “All my buddies were on the golf team, so I decided to give it a try.”
With a set of golf clubs her dad had given her and the guidance of her golfing coach, Mitchell began to hone her golfing skills, somehow finding time to practice several hours a day. Practice that served her well.
“I got pretty good, pretty quick,” said Mitchell. In fact she won the first tournament her coach placed her in. “The coach just put me out there, and I ended up winning my match,” she said. “I was driving the ball around 220-yards at that time and I think it freaked everyone out.”
Her golfing skills continued to improve in high school helping her make the first team to go all district, as well as the Western Conference Championship Team.
After graduating in 1995 Mitchell went on to attend the University of Tampa, but since the school did not have a women’s golf team at the time, it would be years before she again found herself competing in the sport she had grown to love.
“When I joined the Army in 1999 I heard about the All-Army sports program,” she said. “That sparked my interest in getting back into competition.” A year later she found herself on the All-Army golf team at Fort Bliss, Texas, where she put her golfing skills to the test and claimed third place. That tournament would be the beginning of her long career of golfing in the Army.
“Playing on the All-Army team has been quite a ride and a wonderful overall experience,” said Mitchell. “Once you make the team you are representing not only yourself, but your unit and the Army as a whole, so you have to carry yourself with a lot of pride and respect.”
Mitchell represented herself, her team and the Army well when she won the All-Army Women’s Division for the first time in 2005. An achievement that ranks as one of her top golfing memories. “It was my first All-Army championship win and I put a lot of time and effort into it,” she said. “I was sick during the competition, but I played through it and still won. It felt really good.”
A natural born athlete, the 40-year-old Mitchell, could easily pass for someone 10-years younger with her smooth complexion, warm smile and complete lack of the tell-tell signs of aging. She says the biggest challenges of golfing come from within. “What makes golf tough is the mental side of it,” she said. “It’s just you out there. The physicality of it is competitive, but the mental aspect is critical, you can’t overthink it, you just have to take the shot.”
Mitchell has had overwhelming success in the Army sports program and she offers some advice for anyone considering joining the Army or competing in the various Army sports programs that are available. “I highly encourage it,” she said. “There is a myriad of competitive opportunities in the Army, and if you are good enough you can qualify for the World-Class Athlete Program. There are all levels of competition and a myriad of opportunities. It’s a great way to serve your Nation.”
Mitchell has been serving her Nation for nearly 20 years now and her passion for competition combined with her self-drive and determination has not only helped her excel on the golf course, it has also helped her excel at her Army Reserve career.
“Sunny is a key member of this organization that is often recognized for her outstanding abilities,” said Lt. Col. Pedro Rosario, commander, SoCOM ARE. “She is a positive influence both for her Soldiers and her peers, and you can’t find a better well-rounded representative for the All-Army Sports Program. She’s not just a Soldier, she’s a scholar, an athlete and a leader, and I could not do what I do without having her invaluable input and guidance.”
Perhaps Mitchell’s biggest fan is her mom Man Son Mitchell, a native of South Korea, whose heart seems to swell with pride when she has the opportunity to talk about her daughter. “I can not believe all of her many achievements,” she said. “She has always worked so hard and I’m 100 percent proud of what she has accomplished.”
Mitchell plans to continue serving her Nation and playing golf in the years ahead. Her goals include making the All-Army Golf Team next year for the 15th time and getting her golfing handicap back down to zero.
With the game of golf defining much of her life it seems to have become not only what she enjoys, but also a part of who she is. She even concludes her daily email correspondence with a quote from the famous golfer Bobby Jones. “Golf is the closest game to the game we call life,” said Jones. “You get bad breaks from good shots, you get good breaks from bad shots, but you have to play the ball where it lies.”
As Mitchell looks to the future, one can rest assured that no matter where her ball lies, she will be driving it straight towards her target and right past her competition.