STERREBEEK ANNEX, Belgium – Gate guards and military police Soldiers faced off against one another after their shift at the Brussels American School football field in a friendly game of soccer on a Friday evening in July.
The game is one the Directorate of Emergency Services team at U.S. Army Garrison Benelux – Brussels get together to play every other week as an off-duty team-building exercise.
The rules are informal. Goals are set up on opposite sides of the football field’s sideline. Younger Family members of soccer-playing age take part. The ball features splits in its seams from long use.
Sgt. 1st Class Jerri Daniels, the provost sergeant at USAG Benelux – Brussels, said the match was an idea to get DES team members to know one another better.
“We are having a soccer match with the MPs and the guards to assist us in building closer relationships with the people we work with on a daily basis,” Daniels said.
“I think team building is very important,” said Giusseppe Baglioni, a site security officer who helped organize the match. “We are local nationals, and we work with United States citizens and military. So I think to understand better each other, it is good to do stuff like this.”
The game began a little over a year ago. COVID-19 prevention measures had eased in part because of the proliferation of vaccinations, which allowed for team-building gatherings. Initially, there were only a handful of participants, including Baglioni and Daniels. That handful, however, continued to participate and grew over time.
As a sport, soccer was a natural fit.
“We wanted to do something that we all enjoyed – a physical activity,” Daniels said. “We’re in Belgium and Europe, and I know that their main sport is soccer. So it was just something we decided on, that Giusseppe had suggested.”
Along with their operations sergeant at the time, Baglioni put the game together. The group also did a couple of games of paintball as a team-building exercise. Soccer, however, seemed to work best for the team.
“I think it is a good way to do cardio,” said Baglioni. “It is very good to release the tension.”
Baglioni went on to say that playing a sport Europeans are accustomed to helps offset the disadvantage the guards have by playing against Soldiers who are duty-bound to maintain their physiques.
Initially they started the games with guards pitted against MPs. However, due to uneven numbers they switched to both groups playing together on each team, which is how they play now.
“The goal of my colleagues was, ‘Can we spend more time with the MPs?’” said Baglioni. “And I think that is, how you say in English, ‘worth it.’”