Soccer players fly U.S. military athletes to Brazil for CISM games

  • Published
  • By Tim Hipps
  • U.S. Army Installation Management Command
Military Team USA soccer players Capt. Wendy Emminger and 1st Lt. Mandi Messinger were the pilots for a July 13 KC-10 Extender mission that flew teammates and track and field athletes from here to Galeao Air Base in Brazil to compete in the 5th CISM Military World Games.

Created in 1948, members of the Conseil International du Sport Militaire organize various sporting events for the armed forces of 133 member countries, according to United Nations information. The CISM Military World Games are considered the largest military sporting event, with some 6,000 athletes expected to represent 110 countries in competitions in Rio de Janeiro.

"It's really rare that you get two people from the same base on a team, and then even more so two people from the same base who fly the same airplane," said Emminger, who is stationed at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J. "The girls were kind of joking about it when we were in training camp back in March, like 'Oh, you guys could fly us down there.'"

"At tryouts, we were joking around and saying, 'Yeah, that would be so awesome if we could fly ourselves down there, it would be so much easier," said Messinger, who at the time had no idea what the future would hold.

Emminger did some more brainstorming and decided "we could organize a KC-10 to take everybody down."

"When I went back home, I started thinking about it a little more and I thought, 'Actually, that's a pretty good idea, a pretty neat opportunity' especially when I found out the track team was pre-training here," she said.

"It kind of got thrown around a little bit, and Wendy suggested it to her boss, and then the wheels started turning," Messinger added. "Because of our ops tempo right now, the only thing that surprises me is that they could find a (plane)."

Army Capt. Chrissy Acojedo of Presidio of Monterey, Calif., is a four-time All-Armed Forces soccer player making her second CISM Military World Games appearance. She could not believe that her pilot teammates' dream came true.

"I thought it was hilarious at first," Acojedo said. "But I don't think a whole lot of teams have people who can fly a plane, so I think it's awesome. Both of them are fantastic pilots, from what I hear. I clearly am in the Army and don't know anything about flying a plane. It's awesome that they're getting this opportunity to take us down to Brazil. I think both the military and the teams here can benefit."

Emminger said she has logged more flights in the aircraft during the past seven years than she can remember -- some 300 journeys -- but she must stay current on international flights.

"It works out, because it's a training mission," Emminger said. "I fly in what's called the FTU.  I teach the new people how to fly the KC-10, but I still have to get an overseas takeoff and landing, so landing in Brazil actually helps my currency.

"I really give a shout-out to my base, our wing leadership," she added. "I told them my plan, what I envisioned and what I wanted, and they were like, 'Yeah, that sounds like a great opportunity, a great idea.' They supplied the plane and were on board with us pushing forward."

Officials from the 305th Air Mobility Wing at McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst provided a flight crew that allowed Emminger and Messinger to take breaks from the cockpit during the flight of nine and a half hours.

The crew kept the passengers comfortable with pillows and blankets. Athletes were allowed to inflate air mattresses and sleep on the deck, move freely about the cabin, eat, drink and be happy throughout the flight.

Emminger and Messinger appeared to be the happiest of the bunch as they played host to a parade of curious athletes who were allowed short visits to the cockpit.

Navy Lt. j.g. CiAnna Weikle of Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Wash., is a 2009 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy who helped the Midshipmen reach the second round of the 2007 NCAA Women's Soccer Championship Tournament, their finest season in school history.

"No other team has pilots who are taking them to a tournament," Weikle said. "What a cool opportunity to tie that into the soccer matches."

Emminger served as a captain for the Air Force Academy women's soccer team as a center midfielder from 1999 through 2003. She since has become a six-time All-Armed Forces performer on the pitch.  She also has deployed six times to Southwest Asia.

Messinger played one year of soccer at the Air Force Academy before switching to women's rugby for the next three.

"I haven't played soccer in like five years," she said. "I'm probably more excited just to get down there and play. It will be pretty awesome to fly into Brazil. Landing on a brand new field is always exciting, and we don't have a lot of opportunities to go to South America."

Emminger cherishes CISM competitions against foreign military competitors.

"Honestly, I most enjoy the friendships you make with (athletes from) the other countries," she said. "I try to network as much as I can. In fact, I've gone and visited friends from the Netherlands who I've met through CISM. They showed me around their country and their Dutch Military Academy, things I wouldn't get to do had I not met these people through CISM.

"And, obviously," she added, "reuniting with people from college and getting back together.  That's always fun."

And, of course, there is soccer to be played.

"I think we have a good team this year," Emminger said. "We have a lot of returning players.  That always helps. That's one of the challenges we always have: bringing back people and having continuity in the team. This year, we have a lot of returners and a few new additions who are really going to help us out."

Military Team USA traditionally faces CISM opponents loaded with national team players from other countries, including many former and current FIFA Women's World Cup performers.

"It brings our level up, knowing that we're playing against national team players," Emminger said. "I kind of enjoy it."

Messinger, on the other hand, does not know what to expect in her first CISM experience.

"I'm just going in with an open mind," she said. "I've heard really good things from the rest of the girls about how fun it is to play against other military world teams and how competition forges bonds with everybody. And then just getting out there and playing soccer again.  It's been awhile for me."

Flying around the world, on the other hand, is old hat for these two military soccer stars.