MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. --
The same tenacity seen on a European football field can be found on any soccer field aboard the Combat Center Commands make up numerous teams and strive to fill them with the best possible athletes, but some teams are in the league just to have fun. The Robert E. Bush Naval Hospital soccer team didn’t start off the way they planned, but they finished stronger than the rest.
The Combat Center’s Headquarters Battalion didn’t have a team for the 2013 Intramural Soccer League, leaving many potential soccer players with no team to call their own. As luck would have it, these two groups would find each other and together would make a winning pair.
Before the season began, HQBN Marines were scrambling to find a team to play on. During the pre-season coaches’ meeting, players without a team were given a chance to talk to all base coaches looking to fill positions. The Marines were scattered throughout the league but a handful found their way to the Naval Hospital Twentynine Palms team. This would be the tipping point for the NHTP team to become a contender.
“After the first few games and practices, I knew our team had a chance to win,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class George Mingle, NHTP team coach. “We had a rough start, but I believed in these guys from the very start.”
It wasn’t the smoothest beginning for the team. They lost a game early in the season and didn’t have a real presence on the pitch. They didn’t command the field the way they wanted to, but as the season moved along, the team came together. They picked up a few extra players along the way, allowing for more rotations and in turn, extending their life on the field.
Their practices became more focused and even the coach saw a difference in how the team was shaping up. They met regularly and established requirements for players to meet in order to suit up on game day.
By the end of the season, the team was in full stride. They were winning consecutive matches, often by large margins. They were consistently outplaying their opponents and built a reputation as the team to beat.
“We just try to take it one game at a time,” said Lance Cpl. Alejandro Bedoya, NHTP forward. “I help out where ever I can and my teammates do as well. Through the season we’ve become a family.”
Every family is bound to have their hardships. The same truth applied with this family of soccer players. Sometimes individual egos get in the way of the true team mission. Some players have personal goals on the field that conflict with the greater goal. But NHTP worked past it.
“It takes time for players to get used to each other on the team,” said Pfc. Thomas Salukombo, NHTP wing, “It’s the most interesting part though, working everything out and seeing how the team works out. It’s all about getting used to everyone’s style.”
NHTP also fought through tough scheduling conflicts. At times, key players would miss a game and the team would have to elevate their own performance.
“It’s tough sometimes, being in the military and playing soccer,” Mingle said. “Sometimes we have players in the field or on duty and that makes it harder for us. Then we really have to step up our game to win.”
The combination of veteran-soccer leadership and eager young players allowed the team to rise above the rest. Two players from HQBN were the team’s high scorers for the season. Bedoya and Salukombo, at forward and wing, consistently lead the scoring charge for NHTP. Bedoya, nicknamed “Diablo,” ended the season as league-high scorer.
Most of the team has a long history in what is known as the beautiful game. Some coming from the East and West Coast and varying countries to include Ghana and Congo have spent their whole lives around the game. While most of the roster is made up of veterans, this didn’t discourage those new to the game.
“How I look at it is, we’re here to have fun,” Bedoya said. “We all just want to play and enjoy the game.”
In the championship game, NHTP faced the 1st Tank Battalion team, the only team who defeated them in the regular season. Players with NHTP were eager and excited to have the chance to settle the score before their season’s end.
The two teams fought diligently as they traded goals in the first half. Tanks started off aggressive and pushed forward through the pitch. They scored their first goal off of a well-placed header from a corner kick. NHTP charged in with well-timed breakaways to score twice in the first half, going into half time with a 2-1 advantage.
NHTP would take their momentum from the first half and carry it into the second. Playing from behind, Tanks slowed their attack and focused on countering the hospital forward line. NHTP didn’t let up. They answered Tanks’ countermeasures by doubling their margin.
Their relentless effort and perseverance paid off at the end of the match. NHTP kept up their game with zeal and well-executed plays and finished 6-2. By the end, Marines and sailors from both teams were drenched in sweat. The long, hard-fought match was over and congratulations were in order.
Through their struggles in the league, NHTP made their way to the top. They pushed their way through with a mix-matched group of Marines and sailors from different units and varying skill levels. They combined their skills to make one champion-caliber team.
“I knew they could do it,” said Mingle. “I always believed in this group and now we’re the champions.”