Capt. Kevin Sandell
3rd Brigade Combat Team PAO
Behind the camouflage paint, body armor, and in some cases, even a sniper’s ghillie suit, stands a Soldier who may have just graduated high school months before and who now is held to defend America’s freedom. For female high school volleyball players of the Onondaga Volleyball Club, based in central New York, the opportunity to see Soldiers in action firsthand was a unique experience.
Soldiers with the 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Bri-gade Combat Team, hosted players, coaches and family members from the Syracuse-based volleyball club May 5 at the battalion’s headquarters.
Haley Hamm, daughter of Command Sgt. Maj. Brian Hamm, senior enlisted adviser for the bat- talion, plays for a team within the club and makes the drive twice a week to Syracuse for practices.
According to the team’s head coach, the players wanted to express their thanks to military Families and Soldiers of Fort Drum while visiting with the “Catamounts” and embracing an important educational opportunity.
“Haley (and) her Family have been a wonderful influence to our club, specifically with the commitment, compassion and dedication they model,” said Abby Storrier, head coach for the 18-2 “Onon-daga Ice” team and varsity volleyball coach at LaFayette High School. “The athletes and coaches who have embraced the support from the Hamm Family this season wanted to show their appreciation and gratitude. In an effort to welcome Haley to our club, we collaborated on the idea of having some of our athletes visit her new ‘home.’”
The club consists of top female players from central New York, including Syracuse, Dewitt, Liverpool and Baldwinsville. It instills individuals ranging from 10 to 18 years old with a strong foundation of knowledge and skill to benefit their growth as student-athletes on and off the court, Storrier explained.
During their visit to post, the team met some 40 Soldiers who serve as infantrymen, mortarmen, scouts and snipers for 2-87 Infantry. They had an opportunity to don body armor and climb into the massive Mine Resistant Ambush Protected All Terrain Vehicles parked nearby. Learning about weapons systems atop the MATVs and basic marksmanship skills with M-4 and M-24 rifles, the girls were excited to experience soldiering for a day.
“This was an experience our female athletes will always remember,” Storrier said. “Each girl gained a deeper understanding of how challenging the requirements are for a U.S. Soldier.”
First Lt. Greg Durso, Scout Platoon leader for 2-87 Infantry Battalion, said the visit served another role in helping to “close the gap” between the American public and the military.
Durso said he was reminded that Soldiers work for the American taxpayers, and he hoped the girls gained a firsthand glimpse of what the Army does.
For Shonna Hamm, the chance for these high school athletes to encounter Soldiers in action, while also supporting her daughter, was extremely important.
“Our daughter is the only military (Family) Member of the team, and she drives the farthest to practice,” said Shonna Hamm.
“This is a foreign experience for (the team), but we took great pride in having a sense of belonging for Haley,”
She said the sense of belonging is essential for military kids who are constantly moving around and adjusting to new locations and friendships.
Hamm said she hoped the event would help show her daughter’s teammates that military kids and Soldiers are “regular people” too.
During their visit, the girls’ team donned pink 2-87 Infantry T-shirts and signed a volleyball and T-shirt to send with the battalion on future training events as a sign of support.
The girls also collected an assortment of care package items that would boost morale across the unit.
The visit to Fort Drum hit close to home for the team’s assistant coach, Lorrie Tanner.
Her two sons, Connor and Taylor, serve in the Army as a combat medic and mechanic, respectively. She said the experience with the Catamounts gave her a “warm feeling that these boys are doing what my boys are doing.”
“This is the best experience to see a Soldier introduce himself,” Tanner said. “(Soldiers) have a noticeable direction and purpose. It is really good for me to relate to my boys better equipped to talk to them now.”
Tanner continued by saying the visit was really humbling for herself and the team members.
At the conclusion of the day, the Onondaga Volleyball Club members posed for a group photo with the Soldiers of the 2-87 Infantry, and they left with a “fulfillment of pride, worth and respect,” according to Storrier.
“Those who attended walked away with a greater appreciation for our military, along with very impressive bragging rights to pictures taken of them exploring military vehicles, weapons and equip- ment with Soldiers of the 2-87,” Storrier said.
She said the team already has plans for future visits to Fort Drum.