Northwest Military Blogs: McChord Flightline Chatter

April 21, 2017 at 7:20am

Air Force women break another barrier

The Air Force women’s rugby sevens team huddles together after a practice in Las Vegas, March 1, 2017. Photo credit: Staff Sgt. Siuta Ika

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Since 1948, one year after the Air Force became a separate service, women have served in the Air Force. From 1976, when women were allowed in the Air Force as equal members to 2016, when all combat jobs were opened to women, Air Force women have been breaking historical barriers.

Recently, another barrier was broken when, for the first time in history, women in the Air Force were authorized to play Air Force rugby as an official sport.

The Air Force women's rugby sevens team, a team made up of 19 women from across the Air Force, made its first-ever debut in March at the Las Vegas Invitational, the largest rugby tournament in North America.

"Last year, Tech. Sgt. James Hubby, the U.S. Air Force rugby program manager, and I, started kicking around the idea of trying to field a women's team to compete in a trial venue," said Lt. Col. Andy McQuade, 627th Air Base Group deputy commander at Joint Base Lewis-McChord and U.S. Air Force Rugby director.  "Since we had planned for the men to be at the Las Vegas Invitational this year, we identified this tournament as the best to launch.

"We fielded, for the first time ever, one women's side with nineteen players arriving to camp. The women had the opportunity to play Quebec in Sam Boyd Stadium, an honor given to no other team in the amateur pool."

McQuade spoke to the importance of this first-ever event and what it meant.

"We spent much of that time in Las Vegas building a sense of family and that by creating the foundation of a women's team, we have completed what it is to be family. We have now provided an opportunity to women in the Air Force. Since rugby is in the Olympics, both men and women now have the opportunity to compete for the World Class Athlete Program."

Speaking to the fact that this was the first time U.S. Air Force women have been able to participate in the sport, McQuade had this to say.

"Rugby is a sport that is open to men and women. It is in the Olympics for both genders. It is played internationally in all the top tournaments by both genders. In the military, it is a sport that offers an opportunity to express the warrior ethos with fellow airmen. These types of experiences bring together airmen from many career fields and bases, much like we do during deployments. Playing AF Rugby creates that esprit de corps."

Hubby, an Air Force Security Forces Center financial action officer at Joint Base San Antiono-Lackland, Texas, and U.S. Air Force Rugby program director, commented on the responses he has had since this ground-breaking event.

"I average one-to-two emails a day from Air Force members or those outside the Air Force who run rugby programs at all levels, e.g., adult rugby clubs, collegiate and high school programs," said Hubby. "These emails include active-duty, reservists or National Guard members interested in more information, collegiate players curious about the program and seeking more information on Air Force opportunities, or even high school ROTC students who just started playing rugby.

"There is a vested interest in making Air Force rugby an inclusive program that we as an Air Force family can all share. As an openly gay member of our military, it's been a proud few years for me as an accepted member of this program. Now I'm applying that positive experience to another area - making women's rugby a reality."

Making this a reality was something that Hubby experienced first-hand with the women's rugby head coach, Lisa Rosen, announced her tournament roster.

"You could see it in the tears of those selected during camp," said Hubby. "You could see how proud these women were to receive the first official women's Air Force rugby jersey and be given an opportunity so many before them were not afforded."

For the future of U.S. Air Force women playing in the sport, McQuade said the future looks bright.

"Armed Forces Sports wants to build service-level teams and Armed Forces select teams to compete in various tournaments.  However, we want to build on what we see as service-level success and continue to draw in more women to play rugby," said McQuade. "We are very focused on ‘crossover' athletes that have experience in any sport, we will teach them rugby."

Leanne Hardin, is one crossover athlete on the team and is a staff sergeant stationed at Pápa Air Base, Hungary. Although she never watched rugby, she was approached by a coworker who thought she'd be a good fit for the team based on her physique and background in athletics.

"I played football, basketball, baseball with the boys when I was young," Hardin said. "I was told I couldn't play high school football so I played volleyball; they told me I couldn't play baseball anymore so I played softball. I got into boxing later, so I've always been in sports.

"To play for and represent the Air Force at a level that we are is amazing."

"Additionally, we are working hard to elevate our contact methods beyond word of mouth so anyone that wants to give the sport a try knows how to try it and who to get in contact with," said McQuade.

For more information, visit the U.S. Air Force Rugby website at usafrugby.com, their Facebook page at usaf7s or by emailing them at usaf7srugby@gmail.com.

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