Attack Wing Airmen take to the water: Teamwork leads to bronze-medal performance

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Andria Allmond
Members of the 111th Attack Wing at Horsham Air Guard Station, Pennsylvania, traded in their wings for oars as they competed in this year's Independence Dragon Boat Race, June 6, 2015, along Boathouse Row here.

Named the 111th Attack Wing Argonauts, the team, composed of service members, family and friends associated with the 111th ATKW easily overthrew their opponents in the first two competitions of the race trifecta. Despite rowing with open seats and minus any team practices that included all competing members, the team's grit and esprit de corps carried them across the water and to the bronze-medals.

"What wins dragon boat races isn't speed and power, it's timing...," said Senior Master Sgt. John Heidrick, 111th Logistics Readiness Squadron vehicle fleet manager and team captain. "Our advantage is that we come from a military background. We're used to doing those kinds of precision movements - it's like marching."

"We put our experience in the front, our torque in the middle and our newbies in the back and everyone gelled together," said Heidrick, also the Wing's Honor Guard noncommissioned officer in-charge. "And that's what this is ultimately about, team camaraderie and bringing the unit together. We're a family, so this is just one more event that the family can get together and enjoy."

The Argonauts glided through the finish line two boat lengths ahead of the field in the qualifying heat. Implementing a more structured technique in the semi-final round, the rowers edged out the competition by pulling away from the pack in the finishing meters. The final race came down to a photo finish, placing the crew in the third out of four positions, narrowly missing the gold and silver-medal rankings.

Each team competing in the IDBR is afforded three practices with a Team USA instructor, oars, life vests, the boat, paddles and someone to steer. The boats also require a drummer. The drummer sits at the front of the boat and functions to keep the paddlers in rhythm; plays a supportive role in maintaining team focus and encouragement; and holds a ceremonial role in reflecting the overall team spirit.

Former team captain and current team member, retired lieutenant colonel, Scott Hreso sought out Lindy Rustam, a dragon boat member for a team that competes in October's Philadelphia International Dragon Boat Festival, to serve as the team's drummer and coach for the past several years.

"Although they've had only three practices, this team's heart and their strength makes them able to keep up time [rowing rhythm] almost even with the club teams that practice two to seven times per week," said Rustam. "And that's where this team's strength lies. Dragon Boating is really fantastic in building camaraderie and getting everyone to come together."

Along with the team's comradeship, military's physical standards also served to help the 111th Argonauts in the quest for gold.

"All of us here are in good physical shape coming from our military backgrounds," said Hreso. "We're pretty athletic, so we can adapt well to the physical aspect of it."

Team member Tech. Sgt. Talitacumi Acevedo, an Argonaut since the team's inception, stated that maintaining team spirit is integral in maintaining the ability to scull three 500 meter races.

"Towards the end of the day we're exhausted, so we start counting out in the boat with our drummer, Lindy, to keep our morale up," said Acevedo. "Shouting out our cadence is the best way for us to keep our spirits up during the race. In between races, we use that time to eat, relax and get ourselves in the right mindset for the next race."

After the racing was over and the waters were calm again, the 111th Argonauts left with not only their medals, but also with a stronger sense of team integrity.

"It's the culture of our unit," said Hreso. "We're led well, so we do have that solidarity --we stick together. Everyone here knows that finishing first isn't just one person crossing a finish line. It's everybody. The dragon boat is, in actuality, the cliché, 'All in the same boat.' That's exactly what this is. Nobody finishes before anybody else; it's the ultimate team sport."