ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - When the dust settles on a rugby pitch, it’s easy to see who had more tries and who carried the most bruises to the customary socials following the matches. The Team Bliss Strykers, Fort Bliss’ post rugby team, delivered more bruises than tries in the six matches their two squads played in at the Celtic 7s Rugby Tournament at Balloon Fiesta Park in Albuquerque, N.M., May 21.
The bruises may have outnumbered the tries, but if new adventures, camaraderie, fun and growing rugby experience could be translated into points, the soldiers were champions of the 12-team tournament.
Led by Sgt. Maj. Galu Satele, an instructor from Bliss’ U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy, the Strykers brought players which were a cross section of chains of command and units from across Fort Bliss, and had a mix of rugby experience. Split into “A” and “B” squads, the “B” team started the day against the Santa Fe (N.M.) Santos Rugby Club. “A” team soldiers followed by facing the University of New Mexico Lobos from Albuquerque.
Sgt. William Seay, a soldier from 1st Armored Division, suited up for the “B” team and said any nerves he experienced before rugby matches quickly melted away soon after the first whistle. “I usually get so anxious that I want to puke,” he said with a laugh. “But once you start passing out and receiving those first hits, feelings like that usually die off.”
The “B” squad lost a close one to the Santos 25-19, while “A” soldiers fell to the Lobos 29-5.
Second round matches saw the “B” soldiers face off against “ruggers” from Denver, while the “A” team faced familiar friends from the El Paso Scorpions Rugby Club. Satele said while Stryker/Scorpion matches can be full speed and hard-hitting, from his players’ perspectives, Fort Bliss has no bigger rugby fans than the Scorpions, and that feeling is mutual.
“The Scorpions are brotherly teammates because we have that bond of El Paso,” said Satele. “Because we represent Fort Bliss, we also feel like we represent El Paso when we go on the road.”
Following Bliss’ 30-5 loss, Strykers and Scorpions alike gathered in one huddle at the center of the Balloon Fiesta Park pitch.
“We play them so much in a lot of tough matches, and we appreciate the competition,” said Satele. “When we meet up there’s a lot of solid contact, and we love it. There’s a solid bond between us.”
“B” soldiers lost to the Denver club as well, falling 28-5.
With four losses between the two squads by this point, the Strykers’ backs were against the wall in terms of making the tournament playoffs, and they rose to the challenge when “B” team ruggers defeated the Clovis (N.M.) Nomads, 17-14. The “A” soldiers couldn’t hold up their end of the bargain and they lost their third match in a close battle to the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology of Socorro, N.M.
As the team vans, furnished by Fort Bliss Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation, rolled back to the squad’s uptown hotel, Spc. Brian Fuimaono, a soldier from 1st Battalion, 43rd Air Defense Artillery Regiment, 11th ADA Brigade, didn’t speak like he and his teammates had lost five out of six matches on the day.
“I had a lot of fun this weekend,” said Fuimaono. “This is a good group and it’s good to hit the road with them. I appreciate that the Army allows me these types of opportunities.”
In his second year as a Stryker, the air defender said every match he plays with his teammates, regardless of the final score, is a step forward for him.
“I play to win, but the losses don’t bother me because it’s one more match of rugby experience,” he said. “I’d like to keep moving upward in the game of rugby and it’s playing in tournaments like this which help.”
Satele said he hopes everyone who wears Team Bliss Stryker yellow sees the bigger picture Fuimaono said he saw.
“I figure it’d help these guys get better on the pitch if they got to see high levels of competition [like they saw from the other more experienced clubs,]” he said. “I wanted them to see rugby on a higher level.”
Where wins may be the measure of success between the sidelines of a rugby pitch, he said the game is a great tool for many other things as well.
“For us it was great to come out and perform the way we did,” said Satele, “we have a lot to learn. Outside of the game, I hope they appreciated getting out of Fort Bliss because for some of these guys, joining the Army has been the first time they’ve left home. Now they’re on a team that travels, and they got to see a culture change by coming to Albuquerque.
“At the social last night I saw our players mingling with players from other teams and making friendships with players from Denver and Arizona, friends they’ve made through the game of rugby.”