Players huddle together as sweat beads drip from their faces and they lose their individual identities. They are no longer identified as U.S. or KATUSA Soldiers, but instead are members of a team competing for trophies and unit bragging rights.
All hands reach for the center, lapping one on top of the other, and everyone shouts on the count of three, "Team 19."
The 19th Expeditionary Sustainment Command, along with other units from Area IV, participated in the annual KATUSA Friendship Week April 18-22, celebrating 61 years of the growing bond between U.S. and KATUSA Soldiers.
"This ceremony begins a wonderful week of camaraderie and sportsmanship," said Col. Craig Cotter, 19th ESC deputy commander. "It is about friendship - friendship among Soldiers and friendship between the people of two great nations."
The week long sports competition kicked off with an opening ceremony, highlighting various traditional Korean fighting routines, a color guard demonstration and cheerleading performance. The audience gave several rounds of applause for the ceremony's entertainment.
Units stationed at Camps Henry and Walker competed in basketball, softball, volleyball, soccer, flag football, tug of war and Jokgu, a Korean sport that combines rules from volleyball and soccer while played on a tennis court.
"I like playing sports, but playing with my American counterparts is a whole new experience," said Sgt. Hwang In-seok, 19th ESC Secretary of the General Staff. "It's so exciting to be cooperating for a common goal, and it's fascinating how people from different countries can communicate well when they are playing sports."
Team 19 won a total of five out of the seven events in their first round of games, losing only volleyball and flag football.
"We came out very strong and gained confidence in the beginning. We scored four runs in the first inning and three in the second," said Staff Sgt. Harry Lassiter, 19th ESC softball pitcher. "The opponents started hitting better. In the bottom of the sixth inning, when they tied the game, our defense cut them short."
Lassiter, 19th ESC Support Opperations, pitched a complete game with four strikeouts and no walks.
"I played on the team last year. This year before I end my military service, I want to hold up the winning trophy," Hwang said.
Spectators, often in unison, cheered with their team mottos in anticipation of the championship games at the end of the week.
The 19th ESC took on 36th Signal Battalion for the first basketball game. 19th ESC won the game due to a great amount of teamwork on the court, with the KATUSAs scoring half of the team's points.
KATUSA Friendship Week took a pause from the ongoing sporting events Wednesday to take some time for KATUSAs to introduce Korean culture and history to the U.S. Soldiers during a trip to Gyeongju city.
The trip allowed for U.S. Soldiers to learn more about the host nation with the help of KATUSAs they normally only interact with in a work setting.
The sports competition reconvened on day four and although Team 19 lost in tug of war and football, they advanced through the brackets winning basketball, softball, soccer and Jokgu and went on to play teams from Camp Carroll for the Area IV championship games.
Team 19 faced 6th Ordnance for the championship soccer game. Rain made the field slippery but that did not stop 6th Ordnance from scoring the first goal early on.
In spite of the downpour and the opposing team taking the lead, Team 19 tied the game before the half on a penalty kick.
As the game progressed, 19th ESC scored the tiebreaking goal on a header from a corner kick. Then, 19th ESC sealed their victory in the closing minutes on a chip shot over the goalie in a fastbreak situation.
"It's been a lot of fun and an exciting competition throughout the week," said Master Sgt. Jamie Johnson, 19th ESC softball team coach. "I always enjoy playing with and against KATUSAs and anything that helps build teamwork is always enjoyable."
By the end of the week, 19th ESC won basketball, softball, soccer and Jokgu, bringing home four championship trophies and the commanders cup, a trophy for receiving the most points based on how many times a unit placed.

Page last updated Mon May 2nd, 2011 at 02:22