Let the games go on

By Theresa Goffredo

Herald Writer

EVERETT — If the call comes in, they are prepared to go. But on Sunday, America’s select military soccer squad was ready and glad just to play.

Earlier, talk was of canceling the traditional All Armed Forces Soccer Tournament, another American institution shut down by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks against the Pentagon and the World Trade Center towers.

Only 10 days ago, the military’s elite decided the tournament would go ahead as planned. And even as some of their peers are recalled back to their commands, the hundred or so soccer players who took to the field at Naval Station Everett on Sunday arrived with a bittersweet determination to win.

"Some of them were very wary if they were going to be able to start," said John Lenz, program manager for the base Commons. "So it was a day-to-day question of who was staying and who was going. It was an uneasy feeling of being torn between being with their shipmates and playing and now they are relieved they are really getting play."

Bob Froelicher, in charge of base morale, welfare and recreation at Everett, said the players were "pretty fired up" to answer the call if deployed. Still, there was apprehension the games would be canceled, he said.

"But the feeling here was that the terrorists would have won — and now they didn’t," Froelicher said.

The six-day soccer tournament brought together the military’s best soccer players from each branch — Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines — and from all over the world. For the past two years, the Air Force has won the tournament. Team members were gearing up to be the first branch to win three years in a row.

At the end of play Sunday, the Army tied the Navy 3-3 and the Air Force beat the Marines 5-0.

"We’ve got a job to do and this is our job right now," said senior airman Danny Hidalgo, stationed at Vandenburg Air Force Base in California. "Like President Bush says, things have to keep going on, and we have to get back to normal."

During normal years, the Armed Forces tournament attracts crowds of soccer fans. But because of heightened security, the Everett base was closed to the public Sunday and only family members and certain media were allowed beyond the base checkpoints.

Lt. Commander Michael Colson, the base chaplain, reminded those gathered at Sunday’s opening ceremony that the Sept. 11 attacks made an impact on all of us.

"At 8 a.m. that Tuesday, we didn’t know that any of us would be heroes, and now we stand here as a remarkable nation, mystified but holding a deep resolve," Colson said. "In the shadow of the flag flies liberty and democracy and for a lot more people than just those of us standing here, but for the whole world."

Marine Sgt. Kevin Pierre said he was happy to be playing but still couldn’t shake the uncertainty of what tomorrow might bring.

"Now that the games are being played, it’s keeping morale up and giving us high spirits," Pierre said. "We have to move on with life, even though there’s a lot of uncertainty. We can be recalled tomorrow. You just never know."

You can call Herald Writer Theresa Goffredo at 425-339-3097

or send e-mail to goffredo@heraldnet.com.

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