First, a little about Joel:
Staff Sergeant Joel London serves as noncommissioned officer in charge of training, Engineering Technical Support Section, 3rd Civil Engineer Squadron, Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska. Sergeant London won the 2009 Daily Quickie Readers Tournament Pool in April. He operates a fledgling blog at www.londonsfirsttake.blogspot.com. He can be contacted by email (jlondon81-at-[yahoo]-[dot]-[com]), on Facebook (jlondon81) or on Twitter (@jlondon81).
"Sports and the Military"
Growing up, it did not take long to realize that few things bring people together like sports. Regardless of what part of the country you hailed from, you had your favorite teams, players, moments that became a part of you for one reason or another. A single sporting event can bring together people from all lifestyles, even if just for a few hours.
Take the Super Bowl, for example. The Sunday of the Super Bowl is a de facto national holiday. Most likely you watch the game with a group of friends, and if you happen to have a team in the game, all the better. On a grander scale, the World Cup brings whole nations together unlike any world event (including the Olympics, I would argue).
I have always found work environments interesting as well when it comes to sports, particularly in any type of workplace where there is a high turnover of personnel. The military is a great example of this. I have served in the Air Force for almost six years. I enlisted in Gainesville, FL – Gator Country. Naturally, I brought my Gator fandom into the military. When you consider what service members go through with stressful work environments and long deployments, sports is just another taste of home for many of us.
I can remember how during my 2005 deployment to Iraq I learned to measure time by when the next major sporting event was occurring. I was there during Super Bowl XXXIX. There was something about standing at attention for the national anthem in the chow hall packed full of hundreds of airmen, soldiers, and marines (at 3am no less!) that moved me more than any other time I had heard it. Knowing that I was to return home at the end of that summer caused me to pay more attention to when sporting events occurred. March Madness, the Masters, the NBA Finals, and the All-Star Game all signaled to me that I was that much closer to going home. The American Forces Network does a fantastic job of showing a variety of games during each season, and most airing live. When you are far away from home, even little things like that help make you feel connected to home.
Even in Alaska, it does not take long to realize that you can be so far away from home and still be in America. Like most workplaces, not a day goes by where the recent sports news does not come up. The diversity inherent in the military shows up especially at this time of year, at the start of football season. In my office alone, almost half the SEC is represented (Florida, Auburn, LSU, Mississippi State, Arkansas). Two of my co-workers proudly display their Terrible Towels. We have a “Beaver Believer” Oregon State fan, a diehard Philadelphia sports fan, and even a faithful Lions fan. One of my former superior officers is an Oklahoma graduate, and he and I traded barbs over Tebow and Bradford before the national championship in January. (I held the trump card as our commander is a Florida graduate.) Sports can be a refreshing way for us to shed duty titles and rank and just be average sports fans, if even for a little while. Best part is we all talk up our teams as if they are the best in the world, because to us they are.
The military demands that regardless of your background, you work together as a team. This is true of sports and life as well. In my experience, sports have brought service members together sometimes in ways civilians cannot understand. It builds a sense of camaraderie amongst us, and allows us to get to know each other better. We learn quickly to work together and earn respect with each other… even if the person next to you is a Tennessee fan.
… but that’s my take.
***Shameless plug time: Thanks to Dan for giving me the opportunity to write a guest blog post. You, the reader, have a chance to earn a guest blog post too by simply signing up for Pigskin Pick ‘Em and/or College Football Pick ‘Em on espn.com. Find the group name “Daily Quickie Readers.” You never know how you might do! (Dan note: I didn't ask him to write that!)