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JBER rugby team continues legacy

By Airman 1st Class Javier Alvarez | JBER Public Affairs | May 25, 2016

JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska — Out past the baseball field behind Buckner Physical Fitness Center, just a few yards shy of the soccer goal posts, a group of service members met for their biweekly rugby practice.

Some wore polo shirts - as rugby fashion dictates. Dirt and grass stains accented their attire. Mud - a mixture of dirt and sweat - was commonplace, and helped complete the ensemble.

To people unfamiliar with the game, rugby can appear to be a conglomerate of sports. Not quite American football and not quite soccer. Two teams battle for the ball in hopes of advancing past the end zone. The objective is, simply put, to outscore the opposing team.

The Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson Arctic Legion Rugby Football Club is an venue to build community and release aggression, said Sgt. Joseph St. Germain, 103rd Civil Support Team survey team member.

St. Germain stands with a broad muscular frame - rugby personified.  However, to participate on the base team, one does not need to be as physically fit.

Interested service members, retirees and dependents with cleats and a mouth guard in hand can attend practice sessions scheduled Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5:30 to 7 p.m., St. Germain said.

The club is open to all skill levels - knowing how to play is not a requirement, he said.

"There is a position for everyone -  all shapes, sizes, ages," St. Germain said. "Rugby is pretty forgiving, because there are 15 players on your side. If you miss a tackle, there are 14 other mates helping you out. You cover each other for whatever happens."

The Arctic Legion is a division two team, however, team leadership hope to pique enough interest on base to have a women's team, and division one and two teams.

"Rugby gives service members the opportunity to get out of the dorms or barracks and release that pent-up energy and aggression in a positive way," said Donald Gum, Arctic Legion coach. "It also gives us an opportunity to teach them to advance their leadership skills. Players get out here and they get to work together and build confidence and hone that warrior spirit that they all have."

St. Germain said the rugby field offers respite from the daily grind.

"I love rugby, because for those 80 minutes, my only focus is rugby," St. Germain said. "No other thought enters my mind. My total focus is the game. And that's relieving when you have kids and a job and other responsibilities."

The origins of a rugby team on JBER can be traced back to the pre-joint base days of 1993, when the then-commander and command sergeant major of Fort Richardson participated in the games, said David Delozier, Arctic Legion forward coach.

The Fort Richardson Thunderbirds, as they were known, won the military nationals in 1995 against 45 other teams, he said. But despite their success, the team was disbanded in 1997, only to return four years later. The team went through a rebranding of sorts throughout the following years.

"Because of the wars and the deployments, the number of military members [on the team] went down," Delozier said. "The locals took over and they moved practice off base."

The Arctic Legion are the current iteration of the JBER rugby team which formed in 2014, he said. Since their return in 2014, the Arctic Legion have won back-to-back state championships, and the Thunderbirds remain an off-base team.

May 21 marked the start of the 2016 season.

Dark clouds amassed over Davis Field as Arctic Legion team members took to the field for the opening game.

Cleats dug into the earth, uplifting the ground, as players struggled to hold their footing. The smell of fresh-cut grass told the olfactory senses of the great battle taking place.

Mud - a byproduct of rainfall and uplifted earth - served as war paint.

Anger and aggression was the fuel propelling players in their fight towards victory, said Air Force Staff Sgt. Dustin Russell, 3rd Maintenance Squadron aerospace propulsions journeyman. The rivalry, however, was short-lived.

"The intensity of the game is unmatched by any sport I have played in my life," St. Germain said. "... The game is so fast. There's not a lot of stoppage. I've never played a game this intense, which is why I've been playing for 12 years. There's no better way to relieve aggression than playing the game of rugby."

Players left the game exhausted, having given their all in hopes of being crowned victorious, in the process releasing pent-up aggression, Russell said

Following the game, all team members shared a bite to eat at a local restaurant. Rugby songs and cheers echoed throughout the restaurant; the rage and need to win remained on the field.