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As the Plattsburgh State men's hockey team fought for a third national championship, Sgt. Jason Vasco watched from northern Iraq.
What do Cardinal Hockey and Vasco have to do with each other, you may ask? Vasco was a senior on the 2003-04 team that went 23-5-3 overall, won the State University of New York Athletic Conference regular-season and tournament championships and advanced to the NCAA Semifinals. The Clifton Park, N.Y., product was 2-0 with a 2.93 goals-against average as a back-up goaltender in his only season at Plattsburgh. He previously attended and played college hockey at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.
These days, Sgt. Vasco has been stationed near the city of Tikrit since October. He is with the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, 10th Mountain Division based out of Fort Drum. As an intelligence analyst, his job is to support air and ground operations all over MND-N (Multi National Division-North), supervising up to four men on his shift. After his days on the ice ended, Sgt. Vasco knew exactly the career path he was going to take as a member of the U.S. Army.
"Everything I've learned as a Cardinal has helped me to be a better soldier"
"When I joined the service as a specialist, my choices were infantry, medical and military intelligence. I chose intelligence because I thought I could have a larger impact on America's War on Terror," he said. "An infantryman only has one rifle and a medic can save only one person at a time. While those military occupations are demanding and fulfilling, I chose intelligence because I could target large groups of the enemy at one time and potentially save countless lives with accurate and timely intelligence."
"I'm proud of Jason. We always talked when he was a player here that he was going into military service to protect American freedom," remembers Coach Bob Emery, who is in his 20th season at the helm of the Cardinals. "Jason is an example of something that we believe in wholeheartedly here at Plattsburgh: Learning life lessons is important along with winning hockey games."
Sgt. Vasco credits his experience as a Cardinal hockey player with helping him transition into military life. He notes that having the privilege to play college sports and working in the military share a similar attribute: the sum is greater than the individual parts.
"Everything I've learned as a Cardinal has helped me to be a better soldier, including the toughness that hockey demands. As a soldier it is imperative that one must be physically and mentally tough. As a Cardinal, I never gave up on the cause of winning a hockey game," he stated.
"As a soldier, it's the same thing. Some days things go our way here, and other days they don't. It's the days that don't go our way when I reach back to memories as a hockey player and remember that we need to learn from our mistakes, toughen our defense, and dig down deep within ourselves in order to be successful. I think every soldier has a little hockey player within. In addition, the teamwork that I learned, the feeling of camaraderie, and the notion that the cause, or team concept, are more important than each individual has stuck with me."
While Sgt. Vasco spends most of his time concentrating on helping to protect United States interests, he still holds Plattsburgh hockey close to his heart. He follows the Cardinals via the Internet on LiveStats and WIRY 1340 AM Hometown Radio's audiostream. He also spends his down time reading, watching comedies and studying.
"Their run this year has given me something to look forward to every weekend. I'll be sad when the season is over, but that is just one more benchmark I have on my calendar to check off...each check means I'm closer to coming home," Vasco mused. "I've also been following the Boston Bruins. They have always been my favorite NHL team and you can bet that Boston winning the 2009 Stanley Cup would be a nice bench-mark to check off the calendar."
"I'm happy that he follows the program while in Iraq. He keeps in constant communication with our coaching staff. I'm proud that he takes a piece of Cardinal Hockey with him into the battle grounds," Emery said.
Sgt. Vasco's blood still runs Cardinal Red, and he has fond memories of his Plattsburgh days.
"My most memorable experience as a Cardinal hockey player would definitely be the support we received from the fans, town and school. We were very successful during my stint as a Cardinal, and memories of victory after victory are ingrained forever in my mind," Vasco recalled. "Memories of the friendships and sportsmanship I share with each teammate are fantastic. However, it was the unwavering support the team received from the college and regional community that stands out to me. After every game, we would stand at center ice as a team and thank the fans for coming to see us play. I still get chills of memories of the applause we received, win or lose."
After Sgt. Vasco's deployment is scheduled to end in late 2009, he plans on attending Georgetown University to pursue a Master of Arts degree in National Security following an honorable discharge from the military.
"I've started the application process, and I hope furthering my education in the cause of national security will help me better serve my country and protect the future of America. After all, that is what this is all about."
After all, that's what Sgt. Vasco embodied as a student-athlete: You don't have to be a superstar to make a positive impact on other people's lives and help make a difference in today's ever-changing world.
For more information about military studies and ROTC at SUNY Plattsburgh, please contact:
Richard Higgins, Director of Admissions
Phone: (518) 564-2040
Toll-Free: (888) 673-0012
Fax: (518) 564-2045