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Army beats Navy for the Commander's Cup

JBLM-based team jumped to an early lead and built on it

Soldiers from the Joint Base Lewis-McChord Army rugby team and seamen from the Bremerton Navy rugby team, collide as they scrimmage to fight for the ball in the 20th Annual Commander’s Cup rugby match, May 19. Photo credit: Spc. Jonathan Rivera Collazo

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Army soldiers and Navy seamen competed in the 20th Commander's Cup rugby match on Rainier Field at Joint Base Lewis-McChord May 19.

The JBLM-based Army team leapt to an early 27-point lead over the Bremerton-based Navy team. The Navy team failed to get on the scoreboard until the second half. The Army side protected their early lead and built on it culminating in a 63-38 victory and securing this year's Commander's Cup trophy.

The now 20-year relationship between the Army and Navy teams initially struggled to gain support within the base. However, in recent years it has received support from command leadership throughout JBLM, the Tacoma Rugby Club, JBLM Morale, Welfare and Recreation, and from leadership at the 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne).

"The match idea began based on a conversation between former military players to try and establish a game between the service installations," said Green Beret Nick Punimata, a retired Chief Warrant Officer 4, and current coach for the JBLM Army rugby team. "Our intent was to try and replicate that rivalry between the services since there is no military service academy presence in the Pacific Northwest."

The annual match used to be played at small local park fields before being moved to Cowan Stadium at JBLM and incorporated as part of the annual Armed Forces Day celebration. This year, it was played at Rainier Field at JBLM.

"Two former 1st SFG (A) commanders, retired Major General Thomas R. Csrnko, along with retired Brig. General Hector E. Pagan, were very instrumental in supporting the athletes and keeping the rivalry alive by encouraging Special Forces soldiers to compete," said Punimata. "The current 1st SFG (A) Deputy Commander Colonel Steve Johnson is also a long-time rugby player and fan, and still participates in many of the unit and JBLM rugby events."

Another 1st SFG (A) soldier, Spc. Joseph Monreal, a human resources specialist and winger for the JBLM Army rugby team, said the sport builds unit cohesion and he's honored to have built relationships among the players both active-duty and retired.

"I like to participate because it allows us to gain new levels of experience and camaraderie with other servicemembers," Monreal said.

The game also serves to build upon the natural rivalry between the Army and the Navy.

"It's always been a great relationship between the sailors and soldiers," said Punimata. "Though this match is small, it's still unique to us in the military stationed in the Pacific Northwest and it's something that many former 1st SFG (A) players have been a part of since the inception of the idea of playing against another service."

Rugby has grown in popularity in the United States. According to a CNN report, the sport has had record-breaking events for each of the last seven years and is one of the fastest growing sports in the world.

"Our sport's growth attracts new players who are willing to experience and learn something new and challenge themselves physically and mentally," said Punimata.

New players join and leave the team regularly due to the often transient nature of life in the military. However, they still pride themselves on playing at a competitive level.

"I certainly hope the JBLM MWR continues to support this event in the future. It is a celebration of the camaraderie of our nation's Armed Forces, and recognizes those military rugby players who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country and have been great ambassadors of this game," said Punimata.

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