MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
Serving in the Marine Corps is a calling that can’t be ignored. Many Marines believe they have to give up their dreams of playing sports in order to serve their country, but a select few Marines don’t have to sacrifice either.
Both 2nd Lt. Haley Katz, an S-4 officer with Combat Logistics Battalion 8, 2nd Marine Logistics Group, and Cpl. Danielle Figueroa, a travel clerk with New Joins, Installation Personnel Administration Center, are trying out for the U.S. Armed Forces soccer team at Pope Air Force Base, N.C., May 9-26.
Figueroa learned of the U.S. Armed Forces soccer team last year but was ineligible to try out.
“I saw a flyer from (Morale, Welfare and Recreation) advertising the 2007 competition, but I was on student status at the time,” Figueroa said. “(The school) wouldn’t let me play, but the seed was planted. I sent in my application for the 2008 competition January 1 and heard back in April.”
Katz, on the other hand, learned from a friend who had competed in last year’s competition.
“I was in Iraq late January when Stephanie Drake, who I played with two years ago in college, told me about how great it was when she played on the Armed Forces team two years ago,” Katz said. “She let me know when the (Marine Corps Administrative Message) came out and encouraged me to get into it.”
However, the process to even make it to the tryouts is not an easy one. The Marines had to go to the Marine Corps Headquarters all-sports website and fill out an application. The application lists past and current soccer experiences. Then, the Marine’s command needs to approve the request even before it can be reviewed.
There are 50-60 service members trying out for the 18 member team, but only four of them are Marines.
If Figueroa and Katz are chosen for the team, they will compete against service members from all over the world in the Netherlands at the Conseil International du Sport Militaire games. The games begin shortly after the tryouts and last until June 10.
Both of the Marines have extensive soccer backgrounds starting in childhood that will hopefully provide the needed experience for the competition.
“I have been playing soccer since I was about four, so pretty much my whole life,” Katz said.
Katz also played soccer while attending the Naval Academy and even while deployed to Fallujah, Iraq.
For Katz, the tournament is an opportunity to play the sport she loves and see friends she made through the game.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” Katz said. “I haven’t played since I left the Naval Academy. It will be fun to play with people I used to play against, and some I played with at the Naval Academy.”
“Soccer builds relationships that last a lifetime,” Katz said. “Especially in the Armed Forces. We’re a small community, but we are spread out everywhere. You run into someone you’ve played with and it’s like it was just yesterday you saw them.”
Figueroa began playing soccer a little later, but was very successful.
“I was 10 when a parks and recreation director paved the way for me to play on an under 12 boys’ team and under 13 girls’ team,” Figueroa said. “I didn’t play again until I was in high school. The experience I got in high school earned me a scholarship to a division two school.”
Figueroa was at the height of her soccer career in 2000 when she received an invitation to tryout for the Women’s United Soccer Association League.
This was the point she stopped playing.
“I let a political situation get in the way, and I just walked away from it,” Figueroa said. “I literally walked away from myself. Soccer was a large part of my life, and I shut it off.”
This opportunity is a new beginning and closure for her at the same time, Figueroa said. Playing soccer on an international level allows her to achieve her dream and possibly open up new soccer opportunities, while at the same time closing the deep wound she felt from cutting out such an important part of her life.
Both Katz and Figueroa said they are thankful to their commands for allowing them the chance to compete.
“It is just a month long; that is the real benefit of it,” Katz said. “It makes it easier, especially for Marines, to be able to be away from their commands for such a short period of time.”
“I really couldn’t have done this without the support of my command, which has been wonderful,” Figueroa said. “I can never thank them enough for letting me pursue my dream.”