By Lisa Ferdinando, ARNEWSJuly 1, 2013
THE PLAINS, Va. (Army News Service, July 1, 2013) -- In the early evening in the rolling Virginia countryside, not far from Washington D.C., Army and Navy veterans faced off in a friendly polo match.
The Great Meadow Polo Club hosted a military appreciation night called "Battle in the Saddle," June 29, in The Plains, Va., about an hour's drive west of the nation's capital.
Retired and current military members attended matches that evening at no cost.
Both players and event organizers said holding a military appreciation night during the spring and summer "Twilight Polo" series is just one way to thank those who have served.
A military appreciation night can also raise awareness for veterans' issues, and highlight the therapeutic benefits of playing polo, such as working on a team and using strategic thinking to be successful, participants said.
Polo player and retired Army major, Mark Gillespie, raised money at the match for the Caisson Platoon Equine Assisted Programs. The CPEAP provides life-changing, therapeutic riding for wounded warriors, he said.
"Particularly for me, as a horseman, this is something where we're helping wounded warriors -- and it has a horse involved -- so for me it's a perfect fit," he said.
Jerry Hanley, a retired chief warrant officer, served 20 years in the Army -- just over a decade of that in the Army Rangers. He's been playing polo for about three years now.
"I got hooked immediately," he said of the sport. "Polo is very similar to the Army, especially the Army Rangers. It's a tactical sport, it's a team sport, it's fast and it's very dangerous. It's that adrenaline rush."
Military appreciation night is also a great way to honor the men and women who have served, and bring visibility to their service and veteran support groups, said Army veteran and polo player Nate Dailey.
"There are 2,000 to 3,000 people here every Saturday night to support Twilight Polo," Dailey said. "For them to dedicate one night as a military appreciation night -- it's fantastic."
"It's an opportunity then for military causes to get some good publicity as well," he said, also noting the benefits of playing polo and the long, historical ties between the military and the sport, which started out as a cavalry training exercise.
The event was held on the grounds of the Great Meadow event park, which includes 200 acres managed by the non-profit Great Meadow Foundation. The organization is dedicated to the preservation of open space for community service.
The foundation's president, Robert Banner, said military appreciation night is popular with service members. The event is family-friendly, he said, so current and retired service members can come out and enjoy an evening watching polo with their families and friends.
"It was the least that we could do to try to draw attention to the things that the military does for us while we're at home enjoying our game and there are other people out there in harm's way," said Banner.
Vietnam veteran and former Naval officer Michael Peters faced the Army players on the opposing team.
"We like to come out and honor the troops, represent them, and represent the Navy," Peters said. "It's just nice to get out there."
Peters also said the match provides him an opportunity to brag about the unit he served with in Vietnam, U.S. Navy Helicopter Attack (Light) Squadron "Three Seawolves."
"They had a pretty commendable record in Vietnam," he said.
Peters said it is always great to support all veterans and show appreciation for all those who serve today, regardless of service.
But on the polo field it's always one team against the other. And on one warm June night in Virginia, it was the Army battling against the Navy.
"But it's always friendly competition," Peters said, with a snicker.