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Giving back to the community

Soldiers connecting on the court

(From left) Rayburn Neal and Lt. Col. Don Brewer smile with their daughters right after coaching their fifth-grade girls and winning the sixth-grade 3rd place trophy in the Tumwater Recreation League March 5. Photo credit: Gary Lott

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Two separate coaches with extensive military backgrounds first started competing against one another, but by this basketball season's end, they became a championship pair teaching a younger generation the importance of giving back.

Lt. Col. Don Brewer currently is a Washington National Guard chaplain and also director for the Joint Services Support Directorate which provides a one-stop-shop approach to military family support.  He recently returned from a year away at The United States Army War College.

Rayburn Neal is a retired Air Force veteran who has been a permanent Department of Defense civilian employee since 2011 and works just a few buildings down from Brewer on Camp Murray.

During the week, these two military members are just two buildings down from each other, but on the weekends, they've been shoulder to shoulder in the huddle teaching and coaching the next generation of female youth.

"I am proud to be a veteran and a citizen soldier," said Brewer.  "The privilege to serve our country includes giving back to our local communities and this aspect of service is extremely important to servicemembers and veterans because it can facilitate successful and positive reintegration into civilian life."  

Rayburn shares very similar sentiments.

"Even after retirement, it still remains important to give back to the community," said Neal.  "After decades of teaching and coaching fellow servicemembers, it comes natural to want to educate the younger generation on the many benefits that a military structure and environment can provide."

Service, strength, pride, brotherhood and even competition all fit that bill, but one might wonder how these "competing coaches" ended up becoming a championship partnership.

"Ray and I each had volunteered to coach our own daughters on different teams," said Brewer. "We connected at the coaches meeting and realized we both worked for the Washington National Guard."  

After competing against each other during the regular season, the two decided to put together a tournament team of 5th grade girls from the Tumwater Recreation League to compete in the upcoming competitive tournaments.

The group of 5th grade girls went undefeated and took home the first place trophy for the 5th grade tournament and even took home the third place trophy while playing in the 6th grade tournament.

"I was proud to see the 5th grade girls so happy to receive the third-place trophy," said Brewer.  "Especially since they played in a sixth-grade division against some extremely good ‘select' team competition and just two weeks prior, went 4-0 and won the fifth-grade girls division."

Similar to how military members continue to grow together, these two have plans to continue to partner with one another and give back to their local communities while forging a bond between the girls to last for many decades to come.

"The girls bonded extremely well and played with maximum effort," said Brewer.  "We hope that it will form a foundation for a team that will continue to learn and play basketball together through their high school years."

Having the ability and time to even take advantage of opportunities like this that give back can be extremely difficult for military members.

"The last ten years, especially, have included a lot of time missed from family, friends and involvement in the extracurricular activity of my kids," added Brewer.  "I love basketball and love coaching and am happy to be here."

The fulfillment received from teaching a young generation the importance of learning fundamentals isn't just about how to dribble a basketball or shoot a layup.

"There is something extremely fulfilling about being able to watch kids, not just learn the fundamentals of a sport, but to learn the successful fundamentals of life through a sport," said Brewer.  "Coach Neal and I told the girls up front that we are going to help them learn the game of basketball and we are going to help them learn how to listen, work hard and play together as a team - all invaluable lessons for life."  

Teaching a younger generation the basic fundamentals for success in any field is already an accomplishment, however, hoisting brass trophies in the air doesn't hurt either.

Healthy competition and the advancement of one's character and athletic skills fall right in with the military environment.

Giving back to the community is helping to bridge the gap between those who have served and those that have no military experience.

"When veterans and servicemembers serve their local communities back home, the apparent divide between the two communities (civilian and military) can be diminished," said Brewer.  "The next generation of youth can hear the stories of our military servicemembers and experience the value of discipline, hard work and team work from real people who have experienced and endured hard and valuable life lessons."

As the amount of those who have served is much smaller than the World War II generation, the importance in giving back and educating the community becomes even greater.

"In military leadership circles, there is much talk about the civilian/military divide referring to the increasing separation or divide between the two communities," said Brewer.  "There is an increasing divide between the two communities which can facilitate misunderstanding and division between both veterans and civilians."

As this divide has continued to grow, the emphasis on teaching the current generation of youth the importance of fundamental hard work is growing as well.

"From my perspective, I believe kids can benefit greatly from learning the value of discipline, perseverance and hard work," said Brewer.  "It seems too many people give up too easily when things get hard, and the military helped teach me to never give up, to keep striving and to work hard with my fellow teammates."

Winning may be important and can provide immense elation, judging by the two coaches' smiles while hoisting up the championship trophies with their team, but it's far from the only thing that matters.

"Winning is the fruit of discipline, perseverance and hard work. Whether it is through basketball or in other trials and tribulations of life," said Brewer.  "And, winning isn't just the obvious victory in a game. It is learning, persevering and striving as a team."

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