I have to say that I feel extremely blessed to have so many of my friends who not only play hockey but have served in the military. I find it unbelievably selfless to serve our country, and to be able to sit down and hear their stories, write about them, and make them known, is just a phenomenal feeling.
I was introduced to “Hammy” over the summer during the K.I.A. Memorial Roadmarch, where I was able to march with Hammy. It was only after we finished the march that I learned he was a hockey player as well. This next story is from Staff Sergeant Brian Hamiliton of the United States Air Force, and defenseman for the Buffalo Sabres Warrior team.
Groff: Why did you join the service? What branch of the service did you join? Why did you choose that branch out of all the others? How old were you when you joined?
SSGT Hamilton: I was 17 and my dad took me to the recruiter’s office on Sheridan Drive to meet the Air Force recruiter. My dad was in the Army so that’s why he pushed me to the Air Force. I wanted to do something more than stay local after high school, I needed to get away and do somethingI could be proud of, but I just needed that extra push from my pops. My enlistment date is July ’98 and I left for basic training February of 2000.
Groff: Have you been deployed? If so, how long?
SSGT Hamilton: No, I have never been deployed. I have been stationed all over the place – I was in Korea for one year, Germany for three years and Utah for three years.
Groff: How did your life change when you joined the service?
SSGT Hamilton: I felt alive. I was doing something worth writing home about. I was a big bomb builder, the type of attack aircrafts dropped. I mean, I’m barely 18 years old and I have access to one of this country’s main defense tools, which was exciting to say the least. Our job was to supply aircraft and personnel with anything that had a rapid release of energy via chemical reaction. So that meant the biggest bomb you could think of to the smallest blasting cap.
Groff: What is your greatest memory of being in the service?
SSGT Hamilton: I would have to say my Staff Sergeant promotion is my greatest memory from the military.
Groff: How did you get involved with playing hockey?
SSGT Hamilton: I started playing hockey at like age 12. And it was street hockey. I used to watch the Buffalo Sabres on Fox29. When I would goal tend with the plastic Mylec pads, I would yell at my players like Hasek, “can’t see, can’t see”!
Groff: How has hockey changed your life?
SSGT Hamilton: Hockey gave me the strength to get through adolescence. I wasn’t into the typical teenage high school stuff. My time was mostly spent playing hockey even if it was on the tennis courts at Ives pond in Tonawanda. I didn’t drink, smoke, or party, so I just played hockey. It helped me get through basic training and any other PT (physical training) with relative ease. I formed and continue to form friendships through just playing hockey. It gets me out of my shell. Some days I believe that hockey has and continues to keep me alive.
Groff: What do you mean, “keeps you alive”?
SSGT Hamilton: There are some days you don’t want to do it anymore. You just want to shut off the lights and lock the doors until the next day. But then your buddy calls up and asks if you want to play and it gets you up and out. If I didn’t have that option, I don’t know that I would have held on.
Groff: What is your greatest hockey moment?
SSGT Hamilton: My greatest hockey moment was playing in Luxembourg, Germany with the military team from Germany; that or playing a pickup game in Seoul.
Groff: Wow! Playing hockey overseas, which had to be exciting, care to share more on that?
SSGT Hamilton: Hockey in Korea is what kept me out of the off base trap. I played roller hockey behind the on-base high school. There were only a few of us hockey nerds on base. I met an Army Captain and I believe he was one that I played ice in Seoul with, along with other military members. They were mostly Army because their tours seemed to be longer, and some guys just never left. I rarely left base, so the drive down to Seoul was a funky adventure, red lights are option in Korea I guess. We played at the rink that was built for the ’84 Olympics I think. It was an epic moment. Here I am just a kid from a small harmless town, prior to the military, I never went anywhere. Now I’m playing ice hockey in Seoul, South Korea with the Army and Korean civilians. Germany was the same way. I was going to places and meeting people that I never would have had it not been for hockey.
Thank you to Staff Sergeant Brian Hamilton for sharing his story. Not everyone is in the thick of the trenches; however, their journeys are incredible and deserve a chance to be heard. For SSGT Hamilton, his passion for hockey, even prior to serving our military, continues to keep him motivated and out of trouble, so to speak.