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Airmen kickoff the first season of flag football at the 125FW

The inaugural flag football game was held on May 18, 2013 at the 125th Fighter Wing, Jacksonville Fla.  Flag football has been introduced as part of the MWR program at the wing. (Air National Guard photo by Technical Sgt. William Buchanan/released)

The inaugural flag football game was held on May 18, 2013 at the 125th Fighter Wing, Jacksonville Fla. Flag football has been introduced as part of the MWR program at the wing. (Air National Guard photo by Technical Sgt. William Buchanan/released)

The inaugural flag football game was held on May 18, 2013 at the 125th Fighter Wing, Jacksonville Fla.  Flag football has been introduced as part of the MWR program at the wing. (Air National Guard photo by Technical Sgt. William Buchanan/released)

The inaugural flag football game was held on May 18, 2013 at the 125th Fighter Wing, Jacksonville Fla. Flag football has been introduced as part of the MWR program at the wing. (Air National Guard photo by Technical Sgt. William Buchanan/released)

The inaugural flag football game was held on May 18, 2013 at the 125th Fighter Wing, Jacksonville Fla.  Flag football has been introduced as part of the MWR program at the wing. (Air National Guard photo by Technical Sgt. William Buchanan/released)

The inaugural flag football game was held on May 18, 2013 at the 125th Fighter Wing, Jacksonville Fla. Flag football has been introduced as part of the MWR program at the wing. (Air National Guard photo by Technical Sgt. William Buchanan/released)

Some people call it guard weekend, others call it drill. -- But the Unit Training Assembly is the time once per month that Air National Guard members strap into their boots and ABUs for two training-heavy days. It's the time when theory and practice come together to test what Airmen know and what they can do.

SrA Erlin Bell knew his task as the NCOIC for Outdoor Recreation and Fitness for the 125th Services Flight was to provide Airmen with something to look forward to when the work day was done. Unfortunately, there was nothing in the books for him to do besides theory and discussion. And there in that void, Bell saw the opportunity to provide OJT, PT, and esprit de corps: flag football.

"I've been here roughly about four years, I've never actually seen so much excitement about one idea," Bell said.

The initial idea to play flag football began two years ago when Bell went through training on leagues and tournaments. As an experiment, he set up flag football strictly within services, and he immediately saw increased cohesiveness and people coming closer together. From there, Bell said he got the notion to take this idea to the next level; the next level being base-level.

"I'm the type of person that likes to leave a footprint; I like to leave some type of stamp," Bell said. "Not so much to be remembered, but just something that I can give back to the wing."

Bell said flag football is something he's seen on a number of active duty bases where he saw the same positive effects on people. Looking into the regulations, Bell confirmed Airmen are allotted one hour of PT every UTA weekend, and set a goal to make this happen. He said there were a number of hurdles, but with the support of his supervisors and leadership, including the wing commander, he was able to organize a fighter wing league called the "Fang Conference."

"Col. Simpler almost jumped out of his uniform," Bell said. "He was excited."

With all the support he needed, Bell began coordinating with various sections to provide services necessary for safe and successful gameplay. For example, before each game the field is inspected for hazards, a water buffalo is provided to ensure players and spectators are hydrated throughout, and the fire department is on standby to call a ground emergency and provide medical assistance if needed.

To maintain the field for everyone, the 125th Civil Engineering Squadron keeps the grass trimmed, and the services flight paints the lines. Bell said to get the area level and ready for gameplay he, along with Master Sgt. Jeff Stanley, Master Sgt. Guy Reinecke, and Senior Airman Quasar Meadows, grabbed some shovels and transported loose dirt from CE to the field to fill in holes.

"In order to get this off the ground, you've got to put in some work," Bell said. "You've got to put your hand in it; you're only going to get what you put out."

Bell said the response to this program has been incredibly positive. People from all over the base have been buzzing about who can make team and what the gameplay rules are, both of which are posted on the 125FW SharePoint homepage. For this first season, a total of eight teams are all hoping to make it to the "After Burner Bowl" for a chance to win "The Simpler," the fighter wing's version of The Vince Lombardi Trophy, which is awarded each year to the winner of the Super Bowl.

"You practice how you play," Bell said. "You don't' just jump into the super bowl. You have to practice; you have to go to playoffs. You have to have the regular season. Then you go to the championship."

Each team will have the opportunity to play once per UTA weekend, for a total of four games played per drill. Players have 30 minutes to warm up and stretch prior to game start, and all spectators, whether military or civilian, are encouraged to come support their teams and players. A section of the parking lot has been sectioned off specifically for this, including two sets of bleachers.

As for the future of flag football here at the 125FW, Bell said he there's already plans in progress, such a new field with lights and a scoreboard, a greater number of teams allowed to play, and perhaps even state-wide tournaments. Eventually, these games may be extended to other branches. Naval Air Station Jacksonville already has its own flag football league. As for Bell, he said he just wanted to give something back to the wing for all the opportunities he's been provided.

"People always talk about 'One Team, One Fight,' and I believe this will actually drive home that point," Bell said. "Regardless of your rank or where you come from, when you're here, your family."