Falcon hockey shares rink with wounded vets
By Amber Baillie, Academy Public Affairs
/ Published September 08, 2014
U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. --
For the last six weekends, Falcon icers have aimed not just to woo fans or gain a trophy, but to have a positive impact on local wounded veterans.
Through the Cadet Service Leadership Program, part of the Center for Character and Leadership Development's integration and outreach directorate, about 15 hockey players voluntarily spent two to three hours each week helping Colorado Springs wounded warriors gear-up to play hockey and experience fierce competition.
"The Patriots sled hockey team asked whether our Falcon hockey team would be interested in lending a hand and we jumped on the opportunity," said Cadet 2nd Class Christopher Dylewski, guard. "These are men and women who embody everything I am proud to be associated with. They have made sacrifices which I cannot even fully comprehend and if I can do anything to facilitate an uplifting and exciting opportunity like this, I count myself lucky."
The co-ed team consists of 13 post-9/11 veterans who practice Sundays at the Cadet Ice House. The team came together in July to provide therapeutic rehabilitation to wounded warriors.
"The cadets are involved in every aspect of practice," said Chris Sweeney, Patriots' team administrator. "They help with everything, from loading and unloading equipment, to helping players get in and out of their protective gear (and metal-framed) sleds, as well as scrimmage against them. By the cadets wearing skates, it makes the game more challenging for the veterans."
The year-round team will compete against "B" level competitors in Colorado beginning in October.
"The cadets' participation communicates to wounded veterans that they are still cared about despite no longer being on active duty," Sweeney said.
Cadet 4th Class William Vosejpka, forward, said the event is a great opportunity to give back to wounded service members. To that end, the Academy's Mechanical Engineering Department hopes to provide a custom-built sled for the son of a Patriots coach who has cerebral palsy.
"For me, there is no place I feel happier and more at home than the ice rink," Vosejpka said. "To be able to help give that experience to disabled veterans, kids and adults, is fantastic."
According to the CSL program website, the Academy performs 20-30,000 hours of service-learning projects during the course of an academic year. Requests for cadet volunteers must be from non-profit groups, churches, schools or government agencies.
"These are humble cadets wanting to serve and get leadership experience," said retired Col. Mike Lee, CCLD outreach coordinator. "It's an opportunity for cadets to put Air Force core values into practice and truly demonstrate 'service before self.'"