Navy vs. Navy
Sailors Play Sports Down Under
As he stands on the sidelines, his limber gait attempting to work a worn path into the synthetic field, the bright, white sun is gleaming through a clear, oceanic blue sky.
Sailors from the U.S. 7th Fleet flagship USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19) participated in two inter-navy basketball and soccer games with Sailors from the Royal Australian Navy.
"Any day that there's competition, there's bound to be some nervousness," said Amopoku, captain of the U.S. 7th Fleet and USS Blue Ridge soccer team. "When I start playing, I'm a little nervous, but as time goes on, I'm good."
Both days were structured rather similarly. The first game was a light-hearted, competitive one between the two navies and the games following featured two teams with Sailors from each navy mixed up.
The first day, Ship's Serviceman 2nd Class Jaquan Hartford looked over the Australian team before the basketball game and was pleasantly surprised to see fellow Sailors sporting Lebron James, Michael Jordan and Kyrie Irving sneakers.
"Postgame, we played two extra pick-up games where we actually found out a little more about each player," said Chief Damage Controlman Andre Sutherland, Sports Coordinator for the U.S. 7th Fleet/USS Blue Ridge and head coach of the basketball team.
"It's good to come together and see other cultures. It's what makes sports great."
"We spent time talking about things that both teams liked and didn't like about basketball, on and off the court. "They also challenged us to a game of rugby, however we said couldn't play because they'd probably smash us," said Sutherland laughingly.
After the soccer games, Sailors from the HMAS Canberra hosted Amopoku and the rest of the team for lunch right by the soccer field. Amopoku said it was the best reception that he's ever been to following a game.
"They definitely went out of their way to make sure everyone was well-fed after the game" Amopoku said. "I'm very thankful for the food, reception and company after a healthy day of competition."
Their counterparts were equally as appreciative. Leading Seaman Electronics Technician Benjamin Wilkin, coach and captain for the Royal Australian Navy's basketball team, said that their team is training for the Australian Defence Force's Inter-Service Competition in New South Wales in about a month.
"They were great," said Wilkin. "We have a competition coming up, so, this was great practice for us; to come together and play in a semi-structured environment against people who know how to play. It was good training for us as a team."
"Aside from the obvious stuff like accents, there also were differences in mannerisms and slang," Wilkin later continued. "However, it's good to come together and see other cultures. It's what makes sports great."
Able Seaman Boatswain's Mate James Hinds, captain of HMAS Canberra's soccer team, echoed Wilkin's sentiments the day following.
"Everyone played a good game with great sportsmanship," said Hinds. "We were a bit contested in the first three quarters, but, it was great to come together, play some soccer and run amok at the end of the game."
Sutherland said building relations in any way, even through something as simple as a basketball or soccer game, can have bigger effects between military-to-military connections.
"The importance of this game, especially right now during Talisman Sabre, simply playing the game, shows that we can work together and accomplish things together," said Sutherland. "I think, in every country, we can build those bonds and ties. It is very important that we actively engage everywhere we go."
Talisman Sabre is a U.S.-Australian biennial military exercise, jointly sponsored by the U.S. Pacific Command and Australian Defence Force Headquarters Joint Operations Command.
"Some of my best relationships and friends have come from those I've played basketball with," said Hartford. "And it's because you have to invest so much into a sport, especially a team sport. Everyone has to sacrifice something to play for the overall goal of winning; and you do it together.
"Those relationships go on, on and off the court typically. These same people become friends, and then become best men and so on. I've learned to cherish those relationships."