FORT DRUM, N.Y – Spc. Sean Slander knew he was far away from his hometown of Yigo, Guam, when he arrived to Fort Drum, New York, in October of 2020.
“I joined the Army because I wanted to travel but most importantly because in my culture when we become adults, our ultimate goal is to be able to make a living and eventually go back home to help our parents,” said Slander, a culinary specialist assigned to 593rd Field Feeding Company, 10th Division Sustainment Troops Battalion, 10th Mountain Division Sustainment Brigade. “I knew the Army would give me the opportunity to accomplish both of my goals.”
But the feeling of being homesick still emerged from time to time. That was until April of 2021.
“My cousin, who is also stationed here at Fort Drum, actually told me that there was a rugby team on-post,” said Slander. “At that moment, I knew I wanted to be part of that team and community.”
Rugby, however, wasn’t something new for Slander.
“I started playing rugby when I was in middle school, and I always loved it more than any other sport,” he explained. “Rugby is a big part of my culture, and I love the trust and bond you gain from that community.”
Almost a year after joining the Fort Drum team, Slander’s passion and dedication for the game earned him a spot on the Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s Flying Tigers team to play in the 2022 annual Army-Navy Commanders Cup at JBLM.
For Sgt. 1st Class Brandon White, Slander’s platoon sergeant at the time, it was important to ensure Slander got the opportunity to play rugby at a more competitive level.
“We should never hinder a Soldier from trying to challenge themselves into becoming a better person. For Slander, this was an opportunity to push and challenge himself,” said White. “As a leader, it was important for me to support him. He is the type of Soldier who is always ready to work and give to everyone, so it was my turn to help him do something for himself.”
During the week-long tournament, Slander said he developed new goals for his future.
“After playing with the JBLM team, I want to try out for the All-Army Rugby team and eventually become a coach someday,” he explained.
But aside from finding a new sense of belonging, Slander said rugby allows him to unwind and relax to help him accomplish those goals.
“When I hold that ball and run straight through a defense line, I have absolutely no fear,” he explained. “Ever since I found rugby here at Fort Drum, it has really taken off a lot of stress.”
Like Slander, White agrees that it’s essential for Soldiers to have an activity or community to help decompress from daily tasks.
“It’s important that we show Soldiers that there are communities, on-post or off-post, that they can be part of, but they need to leave the comfort of their barracks rooms to do that sometimes,” explained White. “As leaders, we need to sometimes give our Soldiers that extra push and help them find those things that give them a sense of belonging.”