Jasper alum finds balance between work and play

Photo courtesy of Drew Belk
Air Force Lieutenant Drew Belk, a native of Jasper and a Wildcat alum, right, was a member of the 2018 Air Force soccer squad that won the Armed Forces Championship earlier this month.

By JONATHAN SAXON
jsaxon@dcherald.com

Belk

According to Lt. Drew Belk, the Air Force soccer team is Spain and the rest of the military branches have to catch up to the Flight Squad in on-field performance and dominance.

Well...maybe he didn’t quite put it in those terms.

“I would like to compare us most closely to Spain and the way they dominate possession and move the ball around,” he said. “Granted, we are not nearly on the level of Spain as far as being that kind of team. But that’s the style of play that we wanted to emulate.”

It would seem the Jasper native and his teammates were successful in their imitation act, as the Air Force squad was able to claim victory over the Navy this past month in the Armed Forces Championship.

The Armed Forces Championship is a round-robin style soccer tournament which takes teams comprised of the best of the best from each military branch and pits them against each other in a contest of skill, will, and bragging rights across the services. It was Belk’s first year participating in the tourney and the former high school and college soccer player was impressed by the level of competition and athletic talent which he saw from the nation’s armed forces during tournament play.

“I was really impressed with the speed of the play,” he said. “It was something that I hadn’t seen since college. It took a bit of adapting to get back to it. I would put the level of play on par with Division I level (soccer).”

Belk, 26, joined the Air Force right out of college after graduating from the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology with an Engineering degree in 2014. He said he felt the call to service after several conversations with an Air Force recruiter he met while he was still in school and enrolled in to Officer Training School at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama in August 2014.

Belk is now a First Lieutenant and serves in the Air Force Technical Applications Center (AFTAC) out of Patrick Air Force Base in Coco Beach, Florida. He and his flight are involved in nuclear treaty monitoring, meaning their group develops techniques and measures to monitor for foreign nuclear explosions in accordance with nonproliferation and national security objectives.

But when Belk wasn’t involved in those kind of activities, he looked for something else to keep him busy in his down time and picked up soccer once again while at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. While playing with the base soccer team, he found out about the Defender’s Cup — a nationwide World Cup style competition in San Antonio, Texas over Labor Day weekend which featured teams from bases all over the country. From there he learned of the Armed Forces Championship and went through the rigors and filters to qualify for the “all-star” team which would represent the Air Force in this year’s tournament.

Belk said that the competition was stiff, but his team was able to use their ball possession skills and passing to breakdown the opposing branches defenses over the course of the event, which was held from June 2-10 at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. For Belk, he said the team’s first game against Army was a tough test to start tourney play.

“They were gunning for us. They came out with a lot of energy and heart,” said Belk. “They were the host. We were the returning champions and knocked them out of the tournament the year before. They actually went up 1-0 for most of the game (and) we had to rally for that one.”

But rally they did and in doing so the team went on to lead the Air Force to another gold medal in the Armed Forces Championship (Air Force leads all military branches with 14 Armed Forces soccer championships).

But while bragging rights are cool, Belk really appreciates how the sport and competition of the soccer tournament solidifies the core value built in across all the branches of the military: the value and necessity of teamwork.

“Teamwork is ingrained into what we do,” he said. “By default we have to work hard for each other to accomplish our mission. We rely on each other within our own service and between the services to accomplish the mission and get things done. It’s awesome to see a great team come together and the camaraderie build (up).”

Belk hopes to be involved in the soccer program for as long as he is able during his term with the Air Force, provided it doesn’t hinder his official duties or take away too much time from his wife, Sarah Castro. He wants to compete in tournaments against other nations in the upcoming years, but like everything else in his life, he is taking it one day at a time.

“Definitely want to work hard and get myself in a position where that can happen,” he said about making the All-Armed Forces soccer team. “As far as the Air Force career goes, that’s something my wife and I have discussed a few times. It’ll depend on how well they can keep us together.”




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