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    Community engagement: U.S. rugby team represents NATO and Battle Group Poland at Sopot tournament

    Community engagement: U.S. rugby team represents NATO and Battle Group Poland at Sopot tournament

    Photo By Spc. Michael Baumberger | Soldiers with 3rd Battalion “Dark Rifles,” 161st Infantry Regiment (black...... read more read more

    There exists a paradox when things are put together through collision, when order evolves from big bangs.

    So, it might seem absurd to the uninitiated that friendships and camaraderie can be constructed from human collisions in battle— of bruised muscles leading to trust, of strained skeletal structures leading to understanding.

    Rugby, however, has this enduring tradition of fellowship through brutal competition. So accordingly, a handful of members from 3rd Battalion “Dark Rifles,” 161st Infantry Regiment, who had played rugby on teams across the U.S., knew the sport could be an impactful community outreach in building relationships with Polish communities and developing interoperability with NATO partners.

    So, they entered a battalion team, the Dark Rifles Rugby Team, into the 9th Sopot International Beach Rugby Tournament and competed as one of a tournament-record 16 men’s sides July 31, 2021 on the main beach in Sopot, Poland, beside the Baltic Sea in the Bay of Gdańsk.

    “The team was planning logistically for this and preparing before they even got to country,” said Capt. Pavel Anisimov, a civil affairs officer with the 415th Civil Affairs Battalion and team chief for U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command. “This was a well-planned activity.”

    They trained for a month leading to the tournament, practicing in the mornings during physical training hours to help new players who had never played develop fundamental skills and learn the laws of the game.

    “We’ve played against each other back on base, but this [tournament] is a challenge, a lot more competitive, a lot more intense, and that’s a lot of fun,” said Sgt. Derek Dow, a team leader for Headquarters and Headquarters Company (HHC), 3-161st, a Washington Army National Guard battalion on deployment as part of NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence (EFP), multinational Battle Group Poland. NATO’s EFPs are a robust, multinational, combat-ready set of forces demonstrating the strength of the transatlantic bond.

    Inexperience showed early at the tournament, with the Dark Rifles giving away many unnecessary penalties from the ground and dropping matches to defending champion Posnania and two other Polish sides in pool play, then rebounding in the consolation bracket to take 12th place.

    The team impressed bystanders with their big hits and physicality with the ball-in-hand. The team also played to a draw in an impromptu exhibition match against the Sopot Old Boys, in which the president of Sopot, Jacek Karnowski (57), represented versus the almost all 20-something members of the 3-161st. The tournament announcer asked the Dark Rifles to “take it easy on our Sopot Old Boys,” but, when the kickoff came, many Sopot players were pounded with heavy collisions and driven deep into the sand. After the match, however, both sides embraced warmly and posed shoulder to shoulder for photos smiling ear-to-ear.

    Before the match, as well, Anisimov and Dark Rifle leadership presented Karnowski and Tournament Director Jarosław Hodura of the tournament organizer Hodura Foundation commemorative medals in appreciation for their support and initiatives in the fields of sport and charity.

    Likewise, the 3-161st, in the early stages of its deployment, has worked regularly with partner NATO nations in Battle Group Poland on initiatives to build trust and relationships in surrounding Polish communities near Bemowo Piskie Training Area. Most recently, the 3-161st spent a sports day playing soccer with children at Gmina Wydminy School, hosted a local boy scout troop, hosted a military equipment tour and participated in a commemoration of the 1944 Warsaw Uprising.

    Anisimov said he has been working with the battalion, providing civil affairs assistance with community outreach for events outside the base “when the U.S. military does something awesome” like this rugby tournament.

    “An interactive, physical sport like rugby promotes unity and develops a huge camaraderie between the teams, and, while we are clashing on the field, after the game it’s always something bigger than a handshake,” Anisimov said. “For example, there is a Venezuelan team here, and I just watched a U.S. medic stitch up a cut on one of the Venezuelan players.”

    The 3-161st has also built a cohesive bond with British soldiers and ruggers of the British Army Poacher Troop, Royal Anglian Regiment, who work on their base at BPTA by practicing with them and joining them at the tournament.

    “We realized that playing rugby with other nations would help foster team building as well as helping us drive each other to be better,” said Spc. Daniel Jardinski, a combat engineer for HHC, 3-161. “So, when we go out on our training exercises [with British Soldiers], we know some names, we know some people, and it helps our relations in teamwork.”

    Events like the Sopot International Beach Rugby Tournament bring participants closer together, aiding in interoperability when, for example, participants of the U.S. Army operate on a multinational level with participants of the British Army, Anisimov said.

    “It’s nice to get out here [with our British counterparts] outside of the traditional training environment,” Dow said. “An event like this rugby tournament develops cohesion and camaraderie. We’ve been developing these huge bonds, and it’s really nice to share this experience with everyone, as well as the teams from different countries.”

    Rugby, then, can be seen as another “awesome” community outreach in developing strong relationships, but with perhaps an odd twist of physical combat. With its post-match customs and traditions emphasizing sportsmanship and camaraderie, rugby is perhaps a perfect blend of friendly violence and competitive harmony leading to respect and togetherness.



    Date Taken: 08.09.2021
    Date Posted: 08.09.2021 06:44
    Story ID: 402606
    Location: SOPOT, PL

    Web Views: 378
    Downloads: 1