The opening ceremony for the Armed Forces men's and women's basketball tournament was held Aug. 16 at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall's Conmy Hall. Senior Department of Defense military officials were in attendance to support their specific branch of service.

''We're very, very proud of them," said Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth O. Preston.

''We're proud of their selection to come here and compete in the all services tournament."

The ceremony began as eight teams, both men and women from each of the five branches of military service entered Conmy Hall to the Rocky theme song, ''Gonna Fly Now" played by The U.S. Army Brass Quintet.

Division I basketball officials from the Big Sky conference and other fans applauded the servicemen and women competing in this year's tournament as they passed by the reviewing stand.

Afterwards the Joint Forces Color Guard presented the colors, and the quintet played the national anthem. Following, Ashley Bowman, of the All-Army Women's Basketball Team, recited the Athletic Oath, a vow made by all of the players to follow and respect all of the rules and regulations governing the tournament.

Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall is the official host installation for this year's basketball tournament.

''JBM-HH is excited to be the host of this competition," said Lt. Col. Jeffrey Dixon, deputy JBM-HH commander, in his speech during the ceremony.

In preparation for the tournament, players underwent several weeks of intense practices. They have also competed against semi-professional teams in preparation for the championship.

Game officials present at the opening ceremony said they are ready to give the teams a fair, safe and fun chance at winning.

''We will officiate the games [tournament] the same as we do for division one basketball," said Wallis Morger Bryan, a referee for the tournament.

''We will adhere to the NCAA [rules]," she said.

Bryan is connected to the men and women competing in the tournament this week. She attended the Air Force Academy where she played on the basketball team. Bryan graduated from the academy in 1985.

''I understand the pressure that the athletes are under," Bryan said.

''I am so proud that these warriors are here representing their respective branch. They are giving it their all for their branch and country," she said.

However, the service men and women are also influencing others to give their all, Big Sky Official Bob Scofield said.

''I want to bring my game to a higher level," Scofield said, comparing officiating to court play. ''I want them [players] to know I'm going to miss a play, they're going to make a mistake; it's ok."

He said he wants to ''give back to the people who represent this country, so that they can play, I can officiate, and it's a good experience for all of us."

The overall focus of this tournament is to have fun and represent all services in the military as disciplined hard workers, the Department of the Army's senior representative said.

''When a team has their service name on a jersey, it represents that whole service and everybody out there in the fight," said Lt. Gen. William J. Troy, director for the Army staff.

''If they can come here, play hard and make friends and represent their services well, then that is something to be proud of."

The reigning champion, as well as four-time winner of the tournament, assistant vice chief of staff echoed Troy's sentiments.

''It gives us a chance to compete with our peers from other services and build esprit de corps across the military," said Air Force Lt. Gen. William Shelton.

Even though winning is an important aspect of the game, Shelton wants the warfighters to come out of this experience with something more.

Fight hard to win, but at the end of the day, if you've done your absolute best, that's what is most important, Shelton said.

''Sometimes lifes best lessons come from not winning. But I still like to win."

An all services team will be configured from the outstanding player statistics at the end of this competition.

The U.S. Military Joint Basketball men's and women's teams will go on to compete in the world's service basketball tournament in September which will be held in Seoul, South Korea.

''The only place competition between the services is appropriate is on the court or the field," Troy said.

''Everywhere else, we're all one team."

The tournament continued through Aug. 22.

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