News: Lancer leads All Army Rugby team to gold in ‘13 Armed Forces Championship
Story by Staff Sgt. Bryan Dominique
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash – The All Army Rugby team took home the gold medal during the Armed Forces Championship at Infinity Park in Glendale, Colo., Aug. 11 to 19, under the leadership of a Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. battalion executive officer.
Maj. Nathaniel Conkey of the 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry Regiment, 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, has been playing on the All Army Rugby team since 2006, and, as the team captain, led the team to victory.
“We’ve been trying to win since ’06. Each year it’s a tournament so you play all the other services, and then the top two play for the championship. Several times over we’ve played in the championship game, every time against the Air Force, and every year the Air Force has won; only one year did the Marines win,” said the 34-year old Falls Church, Va., native. “I think I had a water bottle in my hand at the time, cause you know, we had just scored, and I was just like ‘finally.’ It was a relief. It’s like getting the monkey off [my] back.”
As for the other team mates, Conkey thinks the feeling of relief was mutual among the older players, but all the players could appreciate committing themselves to winning and seeing it come to fruition.
“We had a good mix of older and newer players, and the older players had very much the same reaction that I did,” said Conkey. “This was the most talented group of individuals that I’ve been a part of playing rugby, and we were able to put it together. So the experienced guys were, ‘finally,’ but the younger guys may not have appreciated it from the perspective of ‘we’ve been trying to do this for the last seven-eight years unsuccessfully, but they certainly appreciated the win, and that’s why we play.”
Reminiscing on a conversation he had with his team prior to taking the field, Conkey sums this insatiable determination to win as “turning winning into a habit.”
“I had talked to the team before the first game of the tournament about turning winning into a habit. We had come off of a 5- and- 0 performance in the last tournament we had played in, and it was becoming a habit. That’s what we do, we win, and that’s what we were gonna do in this tournament. We were committed to it.”
“There isn’t an ‘I can’t.’ There isn’t an ‘I quit.’ There isn’t any kind of defeatist attitude. We’re gonna do well,” added Conkey.
It’s this fight and win attitude Conkey sees in sports that feeds his passion and inspires him to continue playing.
“The competition is what gets me. You step on the field and everything’s equal, and you’re trying to win. You’re trying to dominate. You’re trying to impose your will upon somebody else,” said Conkey. “There’s what we call laws or rules to the game obviously, but it’s very much who wants it more. Who has a little bit more heart.”
The analogy existing between soldiers and athletes is well established, so the game of rugby, and sports in general, taking on a similar description to that of a battlefield where soldiers can be found fighting, is best described by Conkey who sees “very strong parallels between those two concepts.”
“I think leadership and sports go hand-in-hand, [but] not that they’re mutually exclusive. You can be a great leader in the Army and not be an athlete, said Conkey. [Athletes] just want to do more. They want to do better. They’re never quite satisfied with good enough. In rugby speak, they’re gonna make the extra pass, or they’re gonna do the extra sprint. They’re gonna do the extra work.”
“I think if you were going to translate that to them in the Army, whatever their rank may be, Pfc. to major, they’re gonna do that much more for the organization,” added Conkey.
Leaders across the Army have often made similar comparisons by equating the profession of soldier to that of an athlete, placing an emphasis on teamwork, physical performance and healthy life choices.
This concept was seen in May when the 7th Infantry Division brought its seven brigades together for Bayonet Week, which is a week of competition to help foster a strong and effective team built on trust and resilience. The Bayonet Division plans to hold this event annually.
The 2nd Stryker Brigade took home the Commanders Cup that week in May, which now sits proudly in the command suite for all visitors to see.
As for the future of the All Army Rugby team, Conkey says the team’s next stop will be the Las Vegas Invitational, where they will compete against high caliber teams from around the world.
“We competed in that same tournament this past February, and we were surprised at the level of talent that was out there. We played [countries like] Russia, France, Mexico. These are national teams that we’re playing, so technically that’s the seven or so best players from these teams,” said Conkey.
For Conkey, he was selected to play for the All Tournament Team, which consists of the best players across all four branches. The future of that team is still in the works, but Conkey described the experience of being selected as humbling.