JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. -- Marine Aircraft Group 49 hosted professional hockey players and coaches on the joint base as part of a team building exercise Sept. 30.
The Bridgeport Sound Tigers is an American Hockey League organization and the minor league affiliate of the National Hockey League's New York Islanders.
After the team arrived to an open grassy area of base, the Marines instructed the hockey players and coaches how to pack military-style rucksacks.
"We explained how they were going to pack their gear," said Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Lorris Wilson, reserve company gunnery sergeant. "Basically, all the equipment we'd need to survive if we're out on movements while we're in a combat setting."
The rucksacks included various things such as an entrenching tool to a sleeping pad.
After the rucks were filling with gear, the players and coaches were separated into three "platoons" to give team captains the opportunity to lead, said Doug Holewa, assistant coach and former Marine Corps captain. The team then donned Kevlar helmets, flak jackets and their rucks and began their 1.5 mile-hike to the ranges where they would conduct the team-building exercises.
Several players suffered mock injuries during the hike to continue the team-building objectives, said Wilson.
"About half way in, we inflicted a little confusion," said Wilson. "Some team members went down with injuries, so they had to firemen's carry or put them on a litter to get to the 'rally point.'"
Once the teams completed the hike, players were separated into smaller teams and tested with scenarios at the Leadership Reaction Course, which is a series of obstacles designed to focus on leadership and teamwork.
"The course is supposed to get you to think outside the box and to help the team understand they can overcome any adversity," said Wilson.
One of the team leaders expressed the challenging nature of the course tasks.
"I've never done anything like this," said Ty Wishart, defenseman with the team after completing the tasks. "I've done a few obstacle courses before, but nothing to this magnitude or this mentally challenging."
Once all teams completed the course tasks, Wilson expressed the value of the reaction course to the hockey players.
"This is about building cohesion and teamwork," said Wilson. "You're only as strong as your weakest person."
First-year Head Coach Scott Pellerin saw another benefit to the team-building exercise.
"The biggest thing that I was impressed with, because it's a new group and several new players, was the communication," Pellerin said. "Good communication is something that can directly improve the team both on and off the rink."
Breaking the group back into their original three teams, the players donned their gear and hiked back to their starting location.
"I think our players really enjoyed the exercise," first-year Head Coach Scott Pellerin said. "I think the tasks were more difficult than the players thought it was going to be, but the players battled through it."
After all military gear was separated and turned in, the Marines showed the hockey players their hangar and briefed the players on the capabilities of the UH-1N Iroquois and AH-1W Super Cobra.
The Sound Tigers organization grilled steaks and chicken at Willow Pond to thank the Marines for their contribution and hospitality.
"Overall, the goal is to build more camaraderie, togetherness and closeness between the team members and the captains," Wilson said.