RAF & USAF Lacrosse Team earns Community Relations Award

RAF Mildenhall, England – Members from the RAF Marham Lacrosse Team, made up of Royal Air Force troops currently and formerly from RAF Marham, and US Air Force members from RAFs Mildenhall and Lakenheath, were presented the British-American Committee Community Relations Award (in the form of a special coin) on July 8th, by Col. Christopher Kulas, 100th Air Refuelling Wing Commander, and Sheila Bailey, British-American Committee (BAC) chairman.

The award is a high honour from both the base and the BAC, and is given to groups or individuals, British or American, from on or off base, who epitomize the special relationship shared by the United Kingdom and United States, and is a way to recognize efforts on a local and very personal level.

The team was chosen for this award to recognize its members as superb ambassadors for their respective Air Forces and within the civilian community, both on and off the field of play.

Corporal Brett Taylor, formerly of RAF Marham and now working as part of the duty operations team, at Ministry of Defence, Corsham, is on the lacrosse team, and said he thinks it’s a great idea having Americans on the team: “The UK forces don’t receive coins, so it’s a big privilege to be put forward and considered for this,” he said. “From day one (having a mixed-nation lacrosse team) has all been very beneficial, from Senior Airman Gary Jurado’s (100th Maintenance Squadron) arrival, up until the end of last season, when we’ve had more and more Americans (as part of the team).”

Ideally, it’s best to have a minimum of ten people on a lacrosse team to play a good game, said Master Sgt. Brian Cain, 3rd Air Force International Relations in Security Policing superintendent:

“Because of postings and deployments, that constantly vary, but we’ve showed up to games with 12 people. The success story is that between the RAF and the US Air Forces, we’ve made it work,” Cain said. “Even if we show up to the pitch with a man down, we’ll be playing against another team that has a full complement of people (all the other teams are usually British). But I think (as an American on the team) we give our team a psychological advantage.”

Taylor said he absolutely agreed. “Lacrosse is an American sport, and when our opponents hear an American accent on the sidelines, it does put that element in their head, and they’re thinking, ‘Oh man, these players are going to be awesome!’ so straight away we walk onto the pitch having an advantage, in the same way that two heavyweight boxers go into a match – the biggest one seems to psyche out the smaller one.”

Having a joint lacrosse team brings relations between the British and Americans closer together, in more ways than one.

“We play lacrosse together, we practice together, we go to games together,” Cain said. “On and off the field we’re building those relations; learning about each other’s cultures, jobs and how we take care of business. It’s beneficial, both professionally and personally, and often after the games, a lot of times we’ll meet up with the other teams, so then you have forces and the local community team; we integrate with them, socialize and share our knowledge, and strengthen those relations.”

There are currently seven Americans on the lacrosse team. At one time, there were 20 British team members on the RAF Marham team, but for reasons such as postings, it soon lessened. The number of British and American players is currently about even.

The two nations joined forces when Jurado, a core lacrosse player, arrived at RAF Mildenhall and started looking for a team to play on.

“He was the conduit that got us together and he helps train and coach the team,” Cain said. “He got in touch with Flight Lt. Joe Gallagher, the RAF Lacrosse Association chairperson; they met through lacrosse forums on the internet, when someone advised him to get in touch with (RAF) Marham, and eventually ended up helping build a team with a good complement of Americans.”

The team travels all around the area, often playing in Kent and London.

“It’s an honor and a privilege that we were all able to be here to accept this award today,” said the 3rd Air Force International Relations superintendent. “I think it’s a testament to the outstanding season we had.”

The RAF team player echoed his sentiments.

“I know everyone in the RAF who has received one of these awards (coins) today feels very privileged, both to have been put forward for this award, and to have actually received it,” Taylor said.

“Being a military team, when we turn up to games, people expect us to be fit and they expect us to be physical. When they then hear the American accents, they then expect us to be quite skillful. I didn’t think twice when we had the opportunity to get Americans on board. RAFs Mildenhall and Lakenheath have been here for a long time, being used by the Americans, and outside of operations, we as the RAF don’t often get the opportunity to integrate with them. It’s always nice to make friends ‘across the pond,’ as our forefathers would say,” Taylor laughed.

Cain said he feels that being part of the joint team is also an excellent networking opportunity.

“I’ve lived in England for seven years, and I thoroughly enjoy it. You’re immersed in the culture, and although we speak the same language, there are cultural differences. Playing on a mixed team means you learn more about that culture; we don’t get to interact much as (military) services, but we get to interact as a joint team out on the field, and the synergy we have when we’re all together is phenomenal,” he said.

The BAC awards now run continually throughout the year. Anyone can nominate anyone else, if they feel they have really made a difference. Any military person or civilian, whether Department of Defense, Ministry of Defence, or unrelated to the base, can nominate anyone else.

The five award categories are: UK individual (or couple); US Individual (or couple); UK group; US group; or young person (under 18).

To nominate someone, submit a statement of their contribution to enhance British-American community relations and any background information to sal.davidson@mildenhall.af.mil. Submissions will then be presented at the bi-monthly BAC meetings for consideration, and successful applicants will be presented with a specially-designed coin.

Written by Karen Abeyasekere, 100th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs RAF Mildenhall