By Ms. Cathy Segal (TACOM)November 22, 2016
DETROIT ARSENAL -- "It's free, it's fun, it's hockey!"
With Joe Louis Arena, home of the 11-time Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings, less than 20 miles away, statements like that are not unusual around Hockeytown's closest military installation. But Chris Hervey, a labor relations specialist in the Civilian Personnel Advisory Center here, wasn't talking about the Red Wings. He was talking about being a member of the Michigan Warriors Hockey Program.
Hervey is one of four TACOM Life Cycle Management Command and arsenal employees in the program. The others are Justin Dunn, information technology specialist in TACOM G6, Corporate Information Office; Joe Wezner, a human resources analyst in the TACOM Integrated Logistics Support Center; and Josh Bante, a contractor in the Network Enterprise Center.
Detroit's professional hockey team, though, was not far from Hervey's mind when he made that comment as his team was preparing to face off against the Detroit Red Wings Alumni Association in a fundraiser Nov. 19 in nearby Plymouth, Michigan. Hervey and Dunn were on the Warriors' 24-person roster for the game, which consisted of two 25-minute periods. The Warriors lost 7-5, despite Hervey's two goals, against a team that included Hall of Famer Mickey Redmond and three-time champ (as a player) Joe Kocur. The Warriors are 4-3 so far this season.
Dunn, a former Air Force combat communications NCO and the team's vice president of player relations, said many of the players were star struck being on the ice with their childhood hockey heroes -- himself included. "Being able to play with Joe Kocur was amazing for me," he said. "I am a fellow 'grinder/goon,' so getting to go into the boards and battle for the puck with one of the best in the business was a surreal experience. Mickey Redmond, 69 years old, is still an amazing hockey player -- they all were. They are so fluid on the ice and could easily make some of our best players look like mini-mites just lacing up skates for the first time," he added.
The MWHP is a nonprofit organization that provides an educational and developmental hockey program for disabled veterans; each military service is represented. The Michigan Warriors, which is not affiliated with the Wounded Warrior Project, plays under USA Hockey's Warriors Division. Each of the nearly 100 men and women in the program has a service-connected disability or has received a Purple Heart from injuries sustained in combat. They play a 26-week season but have games year-round against other veterans' organizations, local police and fire departments, schools, and some Division 1 and 2 college teams. Some games are MWHP fundraisers while others are benefit skates to raise money for charitable causes, or scrimmages to hone their skills.
One of the original six NHL teams, the Red Wings incorporated its alumni association in 1960. The Alumni team is comprised of former Red Wings and other NHL players, along with ex-college stars who play in about 25 charity games each season throughout Michigan and Ontario, Canada.
The Warriors have one competition team and two developmental teams, all of which skate in the Southeast Michigan area. Competition team members have mastered some hockey skills and play in the fundraising and benefit skates; the developmental teams include men and women who have never skated before, are learning the game or are further developing their skills if they have played before.
"Basically what we'll do with the developmental [players] is teach them fundamentals of hockey through the practices, but we'll also hold exhibitions against the other developmental team," Hervey explained. "We'll also get games with outside programs that are of the same skill set. We'll hold actual games to get the feel of what it's like to participate in the game, have referees, and things like that. It's part of the developmental process," he added.
Bante is a former Marine Corps machine gunner who joined the program in September. Although he has years of experience on the ice, he is on one of the developmental teams. "I grew up playing so I try to teach our guys how to skate. I'm not as good as these competition guys," he admitted. "I'm still getting better and honestly, personally for me, I might not want to go to the competition team. I actually enjoy training."
One of the reasons he plays is to relieve stress. "It's a good thing for our mental state," he said. "When you can get a bunch of vets together there's something there that we can all relate to; it's a stress reliever for the most part. I think for a lot of us, it's a big stress reliever to get everybody together."
Wezner, a former Army combat medic, joined the team in November and felt an immediate sense of camaraderie, "Like a family," he said. "It reminded me of my times in the service, domestically and abroad, which may have been a couple of hard times in life but also a lot of the best moments in my life as well. Since exiting the service, sitting in the locker room and having that feeling again put me at ease. It was the most relaxed, understood and accepted I've felt since being home, and that was only in the matter of 20 minutes. It's something that's bigger than each of us individually; we're all a part of a team, fighting together on the ice for a victory. Over time, I'm sure meaningful friendships will be developed, based on mutual respect for our service, togetherness, and our love for sport, especially hockey."
In addition to having fun playing hockey, Hervey, who served in the Army's military police and is the MWHP's vice president of administration, said, "It brings back that leadership role that I had when I was in the military. I hold a key leadership position within the program itself so it allows me to utilize the skills that I learned being a leader in the military and provide it to other veterans. I look at them like they are my Soldiers in my squad. I also get that camaraderie. I get a sense of structure and a sense of purpose."
Hervey explained that the program operates at no cost to the veterans. "We pay for all of their expenses. There is not one penny that comes from the veteran. Equipment, ice time, even the small stuff -- equipment maintenance, we pay for that. We really, really pride ourselves on not charging our members," he emphasized.
"The big thing that we look for is getting them out on the ice, getting them healthy, getting them active. That might encourage them to go out and fight through their disability. If they have back problems, if they have limitations, teaching them to understand that those limitations aren't going to inhibit them for the rest of their lives, that they can fight through that is what we really try to do," he explained.
The Michigan Warriors' next benefit skate is Jan. 7 to raise money for the family of a 20-year Detroit police officer who recently was shot in the line of duty and later died. All proceeds will go to the officer's widow and two young sons. "We have done benefits for fallen Soldiers that live in the local commuting area. All the proceeds that we raise from those -- T-shirt sales, ticket sales -- everything goes back to the family or whoever is benefitting from the event," Hervey relayed.
At the end of the season the Michigan Warriors will skate against the nine other USA Hockey disabled veteran teams from across the nation in their own Stanley Cup-like championship. The 2017 playoffs are in April in San Jose, California.