Banding together, forging lasting bonds and rising up to face adversity head-on are concepts often related to the armed forces, but these connections are not limited to the battlefield – at least not the traditional ones.
The KMC Eagles formed such a bond in a hockey rink, and it spread to other aspects of their lives.
“All cliches aside, we play to have fun,” said Staff Sgt. Adam Sacchetti, 86th Security Forces Squadron unit fitness program manager and KMC Eagles coach. “This is a team that’s like a family. Airmen come and go, but the players make the most of what we have by not only playing the sport we all love, but also volunteering and helping within the community.”
For many players on the team, putting on the jersey and giving everything to back up fellow teammates on the ice is only half the job.
“The best time to be an Eagle is when we are out in the community doing various events,” said Staff Sgt. Brandyn Shelly, 86th Vehicle Readiness Squadron unit material control purchasing agent and player for the team. “We have an opportunity to know the real person under the jersey and a chance to make a difference in their lives. It brings us together as a family.
“The Eagles come out in full force to events around the community,” Shelly continued. “We participate in events from 5Ks to cooking for wounded warriors to raising money for charities around the KMC. The Eagles family will be there and do anything we can to help others.”
Knowing that time can be a limitation for some members who may only be in the area for a season or two, the players do what they can to keep morale high and provide an environment that allows the team to feel like equals.
“Rank doesn’t apply here,” Sacchetti said. “I’m not a staff sergeant; I’m just Adam, or ‘Boston’ as some may say. We have junior enlisted to colonels, retirees, dependents and spouses alike. When it comes to the ice, you suit up and you are a fellow Eagle.”
A close-knit team can provide rewards on the ice as much as it can for the member’s personal lives. The Eagles faced off against teams from all across Europe in the Armed Forces Alpine Classic Hockey Tournament Feb. 12 to 14 in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, and ultimately won, becoming the 23rd annual AFAC Division 1 Champions.
“It’s the most coveted trophy to win here,” Sacchetti said. “You have real bragging rights, because the winner is known as the best armed forces team in Europe. It says a lot about our team, but it also says a lot about the KMC. As those final 10 seconds ticked off the clock and we won the championship 4-2, it defined the result of our hard work. I feel it reflects exactly how the people on our team show their willingness to go further than they think they can for one another – we play for each other on this team.”
The Eagles’ dedication to one another does not end with current members of the team. Airman 1st Class Zachary Cuddeback, a team member killed by a gunman at Frankfurt Airport March 2, 2011, is still remembered and honored today.
“No one currently on the Eagles 1 team now has played with Airman Cuddeback, but remembering him is something that is carried on from year to year,” Sacchetti said. “He is never forgotten. We maintain a saying that once an Eagle always an Eagle, and Cudde (his nickname) will always be one of us.”
The team has found many different avenues to show respect to their fallen teammate. Cuddeback’s jersey, No. 16, has been retired and hangs in his squadron, the 86th VRS. The Eagles organization also created the Cuddeback Cup, which is an annual hockey tournament hosted by the KMC Eagles.
“We invite up to 14 teams from all over Germany to participate in this competition in honor of Cuddeback,” Sacchetti said. “Fortunately, in the two times this tournament has occurred thus far, we are the two-time defending champs.”
As another way to show respect, more than 20 members of the Eagles and their families, along with other members of the community, participated in the fourth annual A1C Zachary Cuddeback Memorial 5K run, held Feb. 28 at the Ramstein Southside Fitness Center.
“It honors Airman Cuddeback by remembering all the good he did and all the lives that he impacted,” Shelly said. “Cuddeback had an impact on everyone at the 5K, even if they did not meet him personally. It hits the Eagles especially hard because he played for the Eagles and was a part of our hockey family. Participating in the memorial run is just one of the ways that we can remember him and his time with the KMC Eagles.”
Though the Eagles 1 team may be constantly changing members, the feelings of camaraderie and fellowship continue to be passed along as the next players come in, teaching the next generation to give 100 percent to the team, the community and the Air Force.