MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho --
Kiss my cleats!
Indeed, a bold declaration for a child to make when stepping onto a soccer field against a team of college athletes who play in a premier Mountain West Conference university.
Regardless, six-year-old Iris Hartzell, daughter of Maggie and Air Force Staff Sgt. Brendan Hartzell (366th Communications Squadron), and a handful of other children matched up against 14 Boise State University Broncos players, and were schooled in dribbling, passing, trapping, team-work and shooting skills.
The Broncos ladies soccer team visited Mountain Home Air Force Base Oct. 5, a day prior to their scheduled Military Appreciation Day match in Boise against the U.S. Air Force Academy Falcons, which was postponed due to the government shutdown.
Their visit to base was two-fold, to show appreciation for Air Force Wounded Warriors and combat veterans, and to host a soccer clinic for military families.
A photo-album worthy clinic:
At around 11 a.m., Young Hartzell teamed up with a family trio, consisting of three-year-old Elijah, eight-year-old Natalie and nine-year-old Cyrus Carlsness, children of Tech. Sgt. Tim Carlsness (366th Operations Support Squadron), and kept the Broncos ladies active as they chased the children around the soccer field, playing a modified version of "freeze-tag," where if touched, an athlete would freeze, until a teammate dribbled a ball between their legs.
"I hope Iris doesn't show them her 'special trick,'" said Maggie Hartzell during the clinic, later explaining that the special trick is when Iris literally traps the ball by sitting on it, keeping opposing defenders from stealing it away.
Though Iris didn't get the chance to demonstrate that day on the pitch, she and all three Carlsness children had individual chances to boot the ball clean through not one, but two goal keepers, who both put in a pint-size effort to stop the riveting shots.
Broncos Anna-Marie Popma and Dom Banks took turns feeding the children the ball as Broncos Captain Katy Oehring and Assistant Coach Ed Moore instructed the strikes on goal.
Little did the children know, nor could likely comprehend, but the coaching they received from Moore is literally a wealth of soccer experience starting when Moore played goalkeeper at Evansville University, Indiana, from 1999-2003, during which time he also developed his skills playing for three different semi-professional teams. Moore has coached at Evansville, Duke University, N.C., and Saint Mary's College, Calif.
He personally trained current Major League Soccer's Montreal Impact goalkeeper Troy Perkins, before switching to coach ladies soccer.
According to Moore, he and the ladies Broncos learned just as much during the first hour of the visit from a Wounded Warrior, as what they taught the base children.
Lessons from the battle field:
When Air Force 2nd Lt. Rebecca Ennis, 366th Fighter Wing Public Affairs, met Moore and the Broncos at the base gate, she explained to them that an assigned combat photojournalist would share battlefield experiences with them, to give them a better understanding of the varied role Airmen play in current conflicts.
When the team arrived at the base fitness center, they found Air Force Master Sgt. Kevin Wallace and Airman 1st Class Devin Nothstine wearing tattered Operation Enduring Freedom Camouflage Pattern (multi-cam) uniforms and holding doors open for them, greeting them with smiles and the standard "good morning, ma'am," Air Force greetings of the day.
The girls filed in and took seats in the fitness center lobby, still in their "college" state of mind, anxiously awaiting a briefing from Wallace.
Moments later, their collegiate mindsets were turned upside down as Wallace recounted a brutal Afghan battle, where he and a handful of U.S. Army Cavalry Soldiers were ambushed, pinned down and withstood a brutal battle, killing dozens of insurgents, despite five of the nine being wounded.
Wallace was one of the five wounded and recalled for them the saga of Operation Red Sand.
Afterward, Wallace gathered the Broncos on the soccer field and juxtaposed the team commitment of a military unit, to that of a sports team.
"You ladies are halfway through your season. I can see the bruises on your legs, arms and even faces," said Wallace. "You're tired, you feel beat down, you feel like you're grasping for the strength to go onto the field and fight out another 90 minutes."
By the expression on the Broncos faces, Wallace seemed to be on-point with his assessment.
"Guess what?" He continued. "You don't have to fight alone, and no one of you is any more important than the other. From your coach, to your captain and every striker, midfielder, defender and keeper, you're a team. That's no different than any military unit I've ever seen. Sure, we disagree sometimes among ourselves, but when it's time to get to work and pull together for the mission, we do it - and we refuse to lose ... so must you.
"What you're learning right now, in these years, at BSU and on that soccer pitch will continue to define who you are for the rest of your lives," said Wallace. "On any real team, there are no super-stars; that stuff is for Olympic Athletes, not team sports. You rely on the girl to your left, you rely on the girl to your right, you watch the back of the girl in front of you, and you trust implicitly that the girl behind you has your back."
Wallace then explained that after suffering a brain injury, it wasn't likely that he'd ever see a ground battle up-close and personal again. But insisted that he, like every senior NCO he's ever met, is committed to the next generation of warriors, and works in any hours in whatever elements necessary to make sure those troops who go to war next not only understand what they may see there, but are trained to handle whatever comes their way.
"You're here to show appreciation for Wounded Warriors, I get that," said Wallace, and then pointed toward Nothstine. "My time has come and gone. That's the guy right there who needs your support. I took him and Senior Airman Ben Sutton onto a remote hill with Marine Corps (joint terminal attack controllers) and we sit up on that hill for 14 to 15 hours a day, well into the morning, for multiple days straight. That guy may hate me, he may be mad, I guarantee he's tired because we literally only came back off that same mountain hours ago ... but he's getting tough and getting ready to pick up where I left off."
Between hearing Wallace's stories of war, acknowledging that Nothstine may be in similar kinetic situations down the road and reflecting on their own commitment to their teammates and school, the Broncos boarded a bus to depart base at roughly noon, each thanking Wallace and Nothstine for their service, and committing to remember them when they step off onto the next soccer field.
Pausing as he departed, Moore thanked Wallace, stating:
"You're right, master sergeant. These girls definitely learned something from you today. I learned something from you today. Thank you for what you do and know that we all appreciate the military."
Editor's note: In addition to Oehring, Popma and Banks, the following Broncos also visited: Bailey Anderson, Shannon Schueren , Rebe Wolverton, Kelli McCluskey, Hannah Frakes, Hailey De Vries, K.T. Clayton, Allie Cummings, Ashley Hruby, Kelli Drobney and Maureen Wishkoski.
(Video by: Airman 1st Class Devin Nothstine)