SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas – When it comes to international partnerships, Sheppard AFB is no stranger to the concept.
Between the 82nd Training Wing and 80th Flying Training Wing, the variety of different service uniforms or foreign languages being spoken on any given day can be seen or heard around the installation.
Recently, in the spirit of friendship and camaraderie, the International Military Student Office hosted the inaugural Sheppard World Cup Soccer Challenge on Nov. 10, 2021.
“We want to make sure that we continue to build on partnerships with our internationals,” said Ralf Taylor, IMSO chief. “A lot of people know of the international program here known as ENJJPT, but our international program actually is more vast on the 82nd side than it is on the 80th.”
After more than three decades of hosting partnership countries at Sheppard AFB, Taylor said he wanted to come up with a new way to facilitate friendships. The idea for the game evolved when he and Royal Saudi Air Force liaison officer Col. Majed Ammar Alsofyani were discussing ways to get the Air Force Airmen in Training and the RSAF cadets to mingle more.
“The mantra at IMSO is ‘building partnerships today for a better tomorrow,’” Taylor said. “With that in mind, how best to do that than with a soccer match? It’s something they’re both familiar with. This is the start of something hopefully big.”
He said with the Sheppard AFB 80th Anniversary celebration happening, they decided to incorporate it with the day’s events. From there, the idea grew from a small scrimmage to a large match up, which was attended by many of the students and permanent personnel here.
Taylor said this soccer match is what leadership here hopes to develop into a larger and more internationally diverse tournament that will last for years to come with both training wings in attendance.
“We have over 400 international students from 40 different partner counties who attend school here at the 82nd Training Wing, and 14 countries represented with our NATO partners at the 80th Flying Training Wing, hosting about 180 students per year,” Taylor said. “Next year, we hope to get both wings involved with more international teams and many games played over a two-day period. We’ll finish it off with a championship final match.”
This year’s first match between the Air Force AITs and RSAF students was a close minute-by-minute clincher with the score tied, 3-3, at the end of regulation. The teams moved on to penalty kicks to determine the winner.
After several attempts were made by both teams fueling the competition, the AiT team pulled off the victory, 3-2.
“There were some great players on the field today,” said Airman Taylor Bonino, an aerospace ground equipment student with the 361st Training Squadron and who played the position of forward for the AiT team. “Whether we’re at the schoolhouse or on the soccer field, it’s been a pleasure playing next to each other, but it’s always nice to have a little competition. We had a lot of fun out here today and I hope this continues on for many, many years after us.”
Brig. Gen. Lyle K. Drew, 82nd TRW commander, presented the Sheppard World Cup Soccer Challenge trophy at the end of the game. Also in attendance was 13th Congressional District Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-Texas).