CAMP BEUHRING, Kuwait - Despite being deployed, Minnesota "State of Hockey" citizen-soldiers keep their hockey spirit alive with a tournament to commemorate Hockey Day Minnesota.
The tournament of four teams from the Minnesota National Guard’s 1st Brigade Combat Team “Red Bulls” was held at Camp Buehring, Kuwait, Jan. 21.
When soldiers from 1st Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division woke up to play hockey, they were welcomed with a high of 52 degrees and low of 35 degrees, unusually cold for the 100+ weather the soldiers acclimated to this past summer.
Most of the equipment for the hockey tournament was donated by Defending the Blue Line. Defending the Blue Line is a non-profit organization that helps military families with hockey equipment and camps for their children, who sent the “Red Bulls” gear to continue their games overseas.
“It’s a great organization that keeps hockey alive especially here deployed,” said Maj. Eric Di Natale, the executive officer for 2nd Battalion, 135th Infantry, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry.
During the games, comradery was shared between all teams as they reminisced and shared stories about their former hockey days.
“If you grow up in Minnesota and you’re part of the hockey tradition it’s always a special day; you see the high school teams play, the Minnesota WILD, the Gophers—it’s a great experience,” said Pfc. Garrick Delaney, an operations specialist with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division.
For many of the participants playing and watching in the tournament it was just like being back home on the ice.
“Being here you really get homesick and miss hockey, but this is actually the first time I’ve seen a hockey stick since I’ve been at Camp Buehring—it’s the best day I’ve had since I’ve been here,” said 1st Lt. Joshua Talarico, a Proctor, Minn., native and platoon leader for 2nd Battalion, 135th Infantry, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division.
Prior to deploying, Command Sgt. Maj. Bruce Stowe, command sergeant major of the 1/34th Brigade Special Troops Battalion, received permission from the Minnesota WILD to use the name "Task Force WILD" for the unit.
The final championship game was played between 1st Battalion, 125th Field Artillery from New Ulm, Minn., and the 1/34th BSTB from Bloomington, Minn., or Task Force WILD.
Soldiers from both teams battled it out unit the very end, but ultimately it was soldiers of "Task Force WILD" that took home the victory with a 4-1 win.
The soldiers of 1st Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division are expected to redeploy back to Minnesota in late spring of this year.