TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. --
Capt. Aaron Zendejas, an Air Weapons Officer instructor assigned to the 960th Airborne Air Control Squadron, was a member of the U.S. Military Soccer Team that competed in the Florida Classic Invitational Soccer Tournament held Jan. 11-16 in Auburndale, Florida. Members of the team represented all of the armed services and competed against soccer club teams, as well as collegiate squads.
“The tournament was a recruiting tool for coaches of the various service teams,” said Zendejas. “They wanted to get the best guys for their teams for the All Armed Forces Tournament and more importantly, they wanted to get the best of the best to go to the CISM World Games that are held every four years. The next one is scheduled to be held in Wuhan City, China in 2019.”
The International Military Sports Council consists of 136 member nations, and is the second largest multi-sport discipline organization after the International Olympic Committee. It represents the highest level of military athletic competition, which often includes Olympians and World Champions. The United States has been a member since 1951 and hosts one to two CISM Military World Championships or events each year.
The U.S. Delegation competes in 19 of the 26 sports offered averaging around 12-15 sports annually. CISM Championships are hosted around the world and provide an avenue for the United States to project a positive image with valuable military-to-military engagements through sport.
Like many of his teammates, Zendejas, who plays as an attacking midfielder and a defender, is a returning player and has a lot of international experience. He was a member of the 2015 CISM team that competed in Mungyeong, Korea. But just because the coaches know a player, that doesn’t guarantee an automatic selection to either of the teams.
“They (coaches) want to check people’s progress since the last time they’ve seen us play. They want to make sure everyone is in good health and bring new guys into the fold so that when we go to compete as Team U.S.A. in the Military Olympics, we have a top squad,” said Zendejas.
There is a learning curve associated with any experimental squad and according to Zendejas the team performed well. “I’m very proud of how this group progressed from start to finish, and I look forward to playing with some of these guys again in the future.
The tournament was a big success because it allowed many new players to get some (scouting) looks, and provided the service coaches with ample notes on how to build their squads for May (All Armed Forces) and beyond (CISM).”
Though the team won their last game 6-0 against a quality team, they did not win the tournament. “Despite some solid performances, the tournament scoring system prevented us from moving on to the semi-final/final. The only team to beat us went on to win the whole thing,” said Zendejas.
Next up for Zendejas is being selected to attend a three-week training camp to compete for a position on the Air Force Team and to play in the All Armed Forces Tournament.