KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, AFGHANISTAN
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan - When the National Football League signed its new collective bargaining agreement last month to secure a 2011 NFL season, the players, owners and coaches weren't the only ones relieved.
Many of the nearly 4,000 soldiers deployed to Afghanistan with the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, based out of Fort Wainwright, Alaska, welcomed and celebrated the momentous occasion, whether it was with a small fist to the sky or a tear of happiness shed in the dark confines of a tent.
For the players the images of playing in Sunday and Monday night games mixed with the large salaries and game bonuses drove up the intensity of excitement. For the soldiers who work what sometimes seem like endless days; however, the new CBA means another year of fantasy football.
“I’m very excited, it’s a once a year thing where I can put on my thinking cap and have fun doing it,” said 1st Sgt. Eric Mroz, civil affairs specialist assigned to B Company, 489th Civil Affairs Battalion, out of Knoxville, Tenn., attached to the 1-25th SBCT.
“It’s a relief to have the fantasy league back. It gives me something to take my mind off of all the stress that comes with being in Afghanistan,” said Sgt. Victor Saucedo, 1/25th SBCT personnel non-commissioned officer.
Finding time for fantasy football is difficult for many soldiers and with the security of the United States resting on their shoulders it may seem petty and unimportant to some. But for the soldiers, getting a break from the long, stressful days and nights plays a vital role in their morale and welfare which translates into better performance on duty.
“It’s important for everyone to have some sort of outlet and fantasy football is an outlet to many soldiers during their time away from home,” Mroz said.
“I’m excited for the upcoming season.” Sgt. David Joehnk, a radio operations maintainer assigned to the BTB, 1-25th SBCT said. “It helps distract the mind from everything that’s going on around the soldiers and it gives them something to relate to a time when they were back home relaxing,”
For some, the season supports a sense of familiarity and brings with it a reminder of home and helps pass the time during an otherwise difficult year.
“During previous deployments fantasy football helped make every Sunday come quicker and made the time go by faster and everyone knows during a deployment you want the months to fly by,” Mroz said.
Although it’s just a game, many of the soldiers have taken pride in their preparations for the upcoming season and often spend any free time getting ready for their rapidly approaching drafts.
“Whenever I have free time I try to go back and adjust my roster. It has become important to keep my undefeated streak going,” Saucedo said with a laugh. “It’s more than a game. It’s a hobby.”
Being the tactically trained professionals they are, the 1-25th SBCT soldiers aren't letting the fun get in the way of the work and progress that needs to be made every day.
Instead much like the pro football players they grew to love, and continue to support, they are working hard to win one for their team, and although they will always be ‘arm chair quarterbacks’ the one thing that is for sure is their team will always come out number one.
“I’ll never hold the Lombardi trophy but fantasy football helps me pass the time 'till I'm holding my trophy: my kids,” Saucedo said.
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This work, Fantasy football delivers relief to deployed soldiers, by SSG Thomas Duval, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.