The Milwaukee-based 128th Air Refueling Wing and the Madison, Wisconsin-based 115th Fighter Wing essentially comprise two-thirds of the Wisconsin Air National Guard. The two units often train together – the 128th’s KC-135 refuelers frequently refuel the 115th’s F-16 fighter jets, but they also team up on other state projects and missions.
But that cooperation cools off inside a hockey rink.
Both the 128th Air Refueling Wing and the 115th Fighter Wing fielded teams in the Armed Services Hockey Association, an organization of volunteer teams made up of military, police and fire fighters from the U.S. and Canada. Members pay their own team fees, as well as travel and equipment costs. Since 2003 the Armed Services Hockey Association has held annual tournaments in Las Vegas, with proceeds benefitting the United Services Organization (USO), Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) program, and Defending the Blue Line.
This year’s tournament, featuring 30 teams in five divisions, was held Nov. 6-10.
“People came together from all over the state between the two teams,” said Master Sgt. Kellen Kroening, a base training technician with the 128th. “We definitely had a strong presence there.”
The 128th Air Refueling Wing’s team, the Brew City Tankers, sport a stratotanker filling a German stein on their hockey uniform. The 115th Fighter Wing’s team, the Badger Militia – also including members of the Wisconsin National Guard’s Joint Force Headquarters – features a snarling badger on their jerseys. Each team is allowed up to three civilian members, and many team members play in local hockey leagues.
Such is the case for Kroening, whose local team plays at the Petit National Ice Center in Milwaukee. He jumped at the chance to play for the Brew City Tankers this year.
“Everyone did well and Madison definitely put up a fight,” Kroening said. “Wisconsin represented itself pretty well in this tournament.”
The Badger Militia scored an early goal, but by the end of the first period the Brew City Tankers were leading, 3-1. As talented as both teams were, the Brew City Tankers won that game, 8-2.
Master Sgt. Todd Hessler, a material control specialist with the 115th Fighter Wing’s Civil Engineer Squadron, captained the Badger Militia team for the second straight year.
“We were a little short in players this year, but the team in all had a great time,” Hessler said. “Most of the teams are great to play against, win or lose.”
The Brew City Tankers defeated three teams in their eight-team division, advancing to the semi-finals where they beat a team from Hill Air Force Base, Utah. They fell to a team called the Misfits – a team comprised of independent service members in the tournament – in the divisional championship game.
This is the second year the Brew City Tankers have participated in the tournament. Master Sgt. Rick Russell, an aircraft flight equipment superintendent with the 128th, served as team captain.
“Throughout the whole tournament there was a lot of effort,” Russell said. “This was the first year for a few of our players, and they contributed a lot of skill to our team.”
The Brew City Tankers and Badger Militia both anticipate playing in the 2015 Armed Services Hockey Tournament.
“The participation and sportsmanship at the tournament was outstanding this year,” Russell added. “Hopefully we continue to grow our team and support for this tournament.”