By Sgt. Zachary Sheely
49th Missile Defense Battalion
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — It’s something every athlete dreams of — scoring the decisive goal clinching victory for one’s team.
Maj. Michael Long felt that thrill as he helped the inaugural All Army Sports Hockey Team sweep the competition in the 5th Baltic Military Winter Games Ice Hockey Tournament in Vilnius, Lithuania, Jan. 24-26.
Each team member was awarded a gold medal.
“This has been a lifelong goal for me,” said Long, a senior tactical director with the 49th Missile Defense Battalion, Alaska National Guard, at Fort Greely, Alaska. “The best moment was when we were all standing on the blue line as the National Anthem played. It was a privilege to represent the Army, the National Guard and the United States.”
The All Army Hockey Team beat Estonia 9-0, Latvia 8-5 and the host nation, Lithuania, 2-1 to claim gold in the tournament. Long, a 30-year veteran of the ice, scored the game-winning goal to seal the victory in the final game versus Lithuania.
“Honestly, every once in a while I get a feeling that my opportunity is about to happen, and when it does I have to jump on that fortune presented in front of me,” said Long. “When that puck crossed the (goal) line, it seemed like it was in slow motion. I was elated for all of us that we were up and eventually won 2-1 in the championship game.”
The All Army Sports Hockey team is the initiative of Gen. Mark A. Milley, the U.S. Army chief of staff, who directed the All Army Sports office to establish an ice hockey team to challenge the Canadian Armed Forces team in a friendship hockey game. The All Army team was formed during a three-week camp at Fort Drum, New York, where it went undefeated in scrimmage play.
In four games played in the Watertown Municipal Arena in Watertown, New York, the All Army team beat the West Point Club team, the semi-professional Watertown Wolves twice and the Canadian Armed Forces team.
From there, with the coordination of the All Army Sports Office, U.S. Armed Forces Sports Office and NATO Allied Sports, the All Army team was invited to compete in the Baltic Military Winter Games.
All Army Sports is a Military Welfare and Recreation and U.S. Army Installation Management Command program that supports Soldier readiness and well-being through athletic performance, military bearing and competitive spirit. All Army Sports are open to Reserve, National Guard and active-component Soldiers. To compete, Soldier-athletes must apply, present themselves before a board and try out.
Long said his experience was unique and exhilarating, but acknowledged that it would not have been possible without his other Army teammates — the Soldiers of the 49th Missile Defense Battalion.
“They were totally on board and really supportive,” said Long. “Everybody at work stepped up and helped pull my weight while I was gone. I was not only a part of a hockey team, but my team here really came together to help support my goal.
“I’ll be 41 in July,” he said. “Thankfully, they put something together that let me play hockey for the Army.”
Lt. Col. Orlando Ortega, 49th Missile Defense Battalion commander, said he supports Long and all Soldiers who endeavor to participate in All Army Sports and other programs that help broaden their experience and mold them into well-rounded Soldiers.
“It’s the Army Values,” said Ortega. “It’s what we are trying to embody in all of our Soldiers.
“(Long) was an ambassador for the U.S., the Army and the National Guard,” said Ortega. “It goes back to General Milley’s philosophy: one team, one fight, one Army. It doesn’t matter where you come from, your age or your background, as Soldiers, we get together and fight the fight.”
Long was one of three National Guard Soldiers on the team, which included Soldiers from around the U.S. He noted that the diversity in age, experience and background amongst the Soldiers of the All Army Sports Hockey Team helped them succeed.
“We have a good team, from a kid 19-years-old all the way to me and everything in between,” he said. “It was a hard competition, but the experience and competitiveness everyone brought, plus the wealth of knowledge put us over the top.”
As the oldest member of the team, Long’s on-ice and military experience allowed him lead by example.
“I pride myself in my work ethic,” said Long. “I work so hard to compete and I think that brings respect from the younger guys. It was a cool experience to offer my knowledge and my work ethic and to show them that someone at 40 years old is still competing.
“It gives them something to shoot for,” he said. “I’m still in the gym every day, still working. I have to stay mentally and physically sharp.”
Long said he’ll keep playing hockey, driving back and forth from Fairbanks — about 90 minutes from Fort Greely — to play in club leagues, and hopes to compete again on the All Army team.
“I have a perma-grin every time I’m out there,” he said. “I’m a grinder. I like the fact that hard work pays off. There are so many dynamics to hockey that I enjoy: the team work and the ability for so many players to come together to contribute to the win.”
Long plans to frame his gold medal and his red, white and blue USA jersey in a shadowbox and hang it in his office.
“For now, it’s hanging above my fireplace so everybody who walks in can see it.”