They come from small towns and big cities. They grew up playing house league hockey and for U.S. military academies.
They learned about teamwork, honor and commitment by playing youth hockey and have taken those traits to another level while serving at Stateside bases, aboard U.S. Navy ships and at remote outposts around the world.
They are proud Americans who are also proud to be hockey fans. They tune in to NHL broadcasts late at night on Armed Forces Radio and Television, sneak a peak at college scores and standings on the web and catch up on youth hockey games through letters from home.
As we approach another Veterans Day, Nov. 11, it’s time to honor those who currently serve in our Armed Forces and those who have served in the past. We can never thank them enough for their service, but this issue of USA Hockey Magazine represents our attempt to do so.
Hockey, Military A Family Affair
Love of country and hockey runs deep in the Pickles family. Tom Pickles grew up in the Detroit suburbs playing pond hockey and catching Red Wings games at the old Olympia Stadium.
While attending the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., he continued playing hockey with the local club team. Throughout his 30-year Naval career, Tom continued to skate in various men’s leagues and even got involved in officiating.
During a tour of duty onboard the aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy, Tom played for a ship’s team that competed against international teams during port calls in the Mediterranean.
Tom passed on his love of the game and service to his son, Tom, who began playing and officiating at an early age. Soon after joining the Army in 2003, Tom Jr., found himself deployed to Iraq, where he continued to support his favorite sport by hanging a Hockeytown sign outside his quarters. That caught the eye of an ESPN producer, who included the hockey enthusiast as part of a “Salute the Troops” segment on SportsCenter.
When Tom, Sr., retired from the Navy in 2008, it was his son who presented his father with a folded American flag as part of his retirement ceremony.
Semper Fi To The Game And The Corps
There’s a certain bond formed between those in the military, just as there is a bond between hockey players.
Jeff Kolcon and Michael Hernbrott were young Marines stationed at Camp Pendleton in the early 1980s when they first met. Back then, there were only two rinks in the San Diego area, so if you were a player there was a good chance that fellow players would find you. That’s what happened when Hernbrott, an Illinois native, joined a local Rec league. After his first game, he was approached by Kolcon, who told him of his plans to create an all-Marine team.
Over the next several years, the team would compete against local college club programs, including USC at the Los Angeles Forum. Although the team was only together for a short time, many of the players still keep in touch and continue to give back to the country and the sport they love.
Kolcon is the president of Rochester (N.Y.) Youth Hockey and a co-owner of several Junior hockey teams. Hernbrott is the hockey director for the Maulers Hockey Program and the general manager of the Rink Side Family Entertainment Center and Ice Arena in Gurnee, Ill.
One Of New York’s Finest Continues To Serve
Through his years as a U.S. Army soldier, a New York City firefighter and member of the FDNY hockey team, William (Billy) Kammerer has always given his all.
According to those who know him best, he is a true patriot and a great example to his family, his country and the FDNY family.
Kammerer joined the Army in December 1956 and was stationed in Massweiler, Germany as a military police officer. After being honorably discharged in 1958, he began a long and decorated career as a firefighter with the Fire Department of New York, originally assigned to Engine 23 in Manhattan. Over the years he served with several ladder companies in Manhattan and Queens before retiring as an active firefighter on Aug. 29, 1989.
Billy’s love of hockey led him to join the FDNY hockey team in 1971. He played right wing for six years before turning to coaching. Shortly thereafter he became general manager, a position he holds to this day.
They say a firefighter never retires. This was definitely true for Billy, who was among the legions of brave souls who answered the call on those fateful days surrounding the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Hockey Has Mass. Appeal For Soldier In South Korea
His Army helmet is slightly tipped over his camouflaged face as he crouches in his fatigues behind the dense foliage.
Even as a 4-year-old growing up in Reading, Mass., Robert “Bubba” Toussaint was born to be a soldier.
He also grew up a diehard Boston Bruins fan.
His mother Karen remembers watching goaltender Tim Thomas being mobbed by his teammates after the Bruins won their first Cup in 39 years. Her son, however, wasn’t watching. And he wasn’t there when they paraded the Cup through the streets of Boston.
Toussaint, now a 19-year-old Army private, was far from home, serving his country at Camp Humphreys in South Korea, where he’s been stationed since December 2010.
Living in South Korea, where opportunities to watch and play don’t necessarily abound, has been a bit rough on the former captain of the Northeast Metro Tech Vocational School varsity ice hockey team.
“His father and I were lucky enough to get invited to a viewing of the Stanley Cup, but it was just not the same without him there,” Mom wrote.
And even though he’s still a world away — and will be for a few more months — the game is never far from his thoughts.
“He always goes back to his [high school], and I am sure he will be skating with them … when he is home in December on leave before going to his next duty station,” she said. “I know hockey is his first love, and I think that he will be playing whenever possible.”
Worn With Pride
When Maj. David Wright deployed to Afghanistan this past year with the 525th Battlefield Surveillance Brigade, 1-38th Cavalry Regiment, his 5-year-old niece, Evelyn, asked if she could decorate one of her practice jerseys to show support for him, his troops, and their families.
Instead, her father Michael opted to work with a local embroidery company and the Family Readiness Group representative, Dawn Gaylord, to put together a jersey that was worthy of his daughter’s request.
The regiment crest is on the chest, the brigade patch on the left shoulder and the stars and stripes on the right shoulder.
The Pittsburgh Penguins were kind enough to invite her team, Pittsburgh ICE, to practice at Consol Energy Center where the family proudly wore their jerseys as the brigade’s tour was winding down.
Duty Calls Dad Away From Home, AND The Rink
When Staff Sgt. Rich Reimers began his tour of duty in Kuwait in support of Operation New Dawn, it marked the second time in 10 years that the father of two hockey-playing boys missed a hockey season due to a deployment.
Reimers, a member of the Minnesota National Guard, has been a coach with the Alexandria Area Hockey Association for close to a decade.
According to his wife Ann, Rich practically lives at the rink when he’s in town. Some nights he is at the rink more than four hours, coaching his team and then helping out with his other son’s practice. He even finds time to play in a local Rec league.
“He never complains, except when he needs some real food, not concession stand food,” Ann says.
“I have known him for 18 years, and hockey has been a huge part of his life for all of our years together.”
The heartache that comes with being away from home during long deployments is a fact of life for all military families. The letters and emails he receives with updates of his son’s final season of Bantam hockey help him stay connected while he answers the call in the defense of a grateful nation.
Ref Answers Call Of The Sea
Like many kids growing up in the hockey community of Marquette, Mich., Adam Holloway quickly developed a passion for the game.
After five years of competing with various youth teams, Adam found his true calling was as an official.
As a registered official with USA Hockey, Adam has worked in the American Collegiate Hockey Association, Central Collegiate Women’s Hockey Association and the Michigan High School Athletic Association. He has also been associated with the Cooper Country Junior Hockey Association and Marquette Junior Hockey.
He was named MJH’s Official of the Year for the 2010-11 season due to his reputation as a consistent and reliable official, and his dedication to referee education and mentorship to younger referees.
Adam’s only leave of absence from officiating was during the five years he served in the United States Navy as an aircraft electrician’s mate, where he spent time in the Pacific, Asia and the Middle East. Following active duty, he remained in the Naval Reserve for three years.
Even after his military career, Adam’s sense of service remains strong as he serves as a volunteer firefighter in his local township.
Making The Most Of A Second Chance
As the old saying goes, you can’t keep a good man down. Stirling Wright is a living, breathing example of that.
Throughout his life, Wright’s love of country, love of hockey and willingness to help others has been the cornerstone of his character.
After graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Superior in 1990, Wright joined the Navy, a career path that led him overseas during Desert Storm and Desert Shield, where he worked with Naval Security Group/ Cryptology Technician-Wizard Operations in support of Navy and SEAL operations.
After a shoulder injury suffered during a training incident forced him to return Stateside in 1993, Wright signed on to help coach a Capitals Boys Hockey Club team.
It proved to be the beginning of what looked to be a long and fulfilling coaching career. Unfortunately, Wright began to experience a slew of health issues that have kept him in and out of the hospital.
While undergoing what he thought was a routine medical procedure in 2011, Wright went into cardiac arrest and was unconscious for almost two minutes before being revived.
As Wright often says, “I died once and was brought back. I’m going to enjoy this second chance to its fullest.” And that’s exactly what he’s done.
His latest accomplishment has been turning the Tri City IceHawks of the Great Lakes Junior Hockey League into a formidable force on and off the ice, helping young players develop so they can reach their goals.
Wright remains close to his military roots by participating with Wounded Warriors, playing in “Put Cancer On Ice” charity games with Caps Alumni as well as assisting with special needs and girls’ hockey programs.
When you look at Wright’s resume of helping others, whether it is supporting the Navy SEALs, coaching our youth or playing in a charity hockey game, you realize that you can’t keep a good man down.
Service To The Game, And Country
James Behn carries his passion for hockey wherever he goes. Even to the Middle East.
Behn, an Air Force captain stationed at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City, found a “less than ideal hockey environment” during his last deployment. So Behn, along with a Canadian counterpart, established a street hockey league on their remote desert base.
When it came time to pack up for his deployment, Behn, who has been playing hockey since he was 3 years old in Wisconsin, opted to squeeze several sticks and pieces of gear into his baggage, which forced him to forgo many other amenities.
What started as a pick-up game on a basketball court lined with cardboard water bottle boxes quickly grew into a desert street hockey league that continues to grow in popularity.
At home, Behn has helped organize several hockey events, including the 552 ACW CAN/AM Cup between the American and Canadian players stationed at Tinker.
In addition to this event, he has managed a club team, the Hawks, that plays in the Oklahoma City Adult Ice Hockey League.
Behn also finds time to play hockey in his garage with his 3 ½-year-old son, Jack, and hopes to hit the ice when Jack is old enough to join a learn to play program.
According to his wife Addie, “While my husband loves ice hockey, sometimes I think more than anything, he would never hesitate to put service to his country above all else in order to protect our freedom.”
No Rest For Those Who Serve
During his six years on active duty, Andrew Sansone has been, well, active. The 24-year-old Fleet Marine Force corpsman has been deployed three times, including once to Iraq in 2007, on a ship with a Marine Expeditionary Unit in 2008 and to Afghanistan this past year.
“I try to juggle hockey in as much as I can, but the job kind of gets in the way between training and deployments,” he says.
Bayern Rangers Skate On A Goodwill Mission
All too often, those serving overseas face the challenge of finding opportunities to play. And although there are limitations that make it difficult to play, the can-do attitude that is ingrained in military members helps them overcome the obstacles placed in front of them.
Such was the case with the Bayern Rangers.
“When I moved to Grafenwöhr and wanted to continue to play, there was no U.S. team to represent the U.S. Forces in Bavaria in the tournament,” says team founder, Lt. Col. (Ret) Brad Huestis.
Huestis, who coached local youth ice hockey league teams in Heidelberg and Weiden, saw the opportunity to form a U.S. military team to play local German clubs and compete in the annual military tournament.
“We created the team in November 2009, threw our helmet into the tournament and then started to recruit players. We had four or five team practices and then played in the tournament,” Huestis says.
For the U.S. Army soldiers and Department of Defense civilians from the Grafenwöhr, Vilseck, Bamberg, Hohenfels and Ansbach military communities who comprise the team, playing for the Rangers has brought more than just medals to the players.
“It’s a great outlet for our soldiers,” Huestis says. “Second, it provides an unbelievable level of camaraderie, and third, it provides a cultural experience by playing in German rinks with German players and clubs.”
Kraig Hays, an assistant professor for the University of Maryland’s overseas program, and the oldest skater on the team, agrees.
“We don’t have a lot of opportunity to really get involved with Germans on a consistent basis,” he says, “but skating with the Rangers allows us to play, and to practice with a number of teams in Bavaria, and really get to know the locals on a personal level.”