Female football heroes have proud roots in the military

In recognition of Remembrance Day in Canada and Veterans Day in the United States, many of the amazing women who have served in the military also have proud ties to the gridiron. While all have unique stories and varied backgrounds, their ability to become part of a new generation of women shaping strong legacies in the military would follow them into the growing world of female football.

Currently serving as a spokesperson for the Women’s Indoor Football League, Cara Vargas is also a member of the Washington Wildcats. Having also competed as a boxer, Vargas is a veteran of the United States Air Force. Having spent six years of active duty while another two were in the reserves, she is a hero in every sense of the word.

An experience at Fort Leonard Wood Missouri would make an impression on Vargas. Having taken action by pummeling a man that was looking to take advantage of a lady in the barracks, Vargas would show the type of leadership and bravery that makes for a character individual. While there were discussions of disciplinary action, a superior officer stood up for her noble action. It would set a precedent for other males at the Fort to treat the female members of the military with respect.

Having donned the Canadian jersey at the 2013 IFAF Women’s Worlds in Vantaa, Finland, Annie Arpin has military roots dating back to before she would become one of the armored warriors for the IWFL’s Montreal Blitz. While Arpin is one of the pioneers helping to build a legacy of women’s football in the hockey-mad city of Montreal (where she has won IWFL Tier 1 and Tier 2 championships), she was part of the Maisonneuve Regiment reserves unit from 1993 to 2000. Of note, she would also see military duty in 1996, travelling to Bosnia as an infantryman.

Arpin in action with the Montreal Blitz (Image obtained from: http://www.larevue.qc.ca/sports_football-au-feminin-n18611.php)

Arpin in action with the Montreal Blitz (Image obtained from: http://www.larevue.qc.ca/sports_football-au-feminin-n18611.php)

In addition, Arpin was not the only member of the Canadian contingent to have military ties. Cheryl O’Leary, a player-coach with the Capital Area Lady Gladiators of the Maritime Women’s Football League served as a mentor coach on Team Canada. Of note, her husband and son are both members of the Canadian Armed Forces.

On the topic of builders, a pair of women looking to establish women’s football in the American heartland of Iowa also saw their share of duty overseas. The defunct Des Moines Courage were not only the first women’s football franchise in the state, but their founder (and occasional player) Tammy Campos would serve in Iraq. Although she was stationed west of Baghdad, she would call her teammates every Saturday night to see how the team fared in their weekend contests.

In the aftermath of the Courage, former player Jennifer Hirakawa would help form the Iowa Crush. Having grown up in Ewa Beach, Hawaii and attended the Academy of the Pacific (where she played volleyball, softball and basketball), it is ironic that she would one day lay the foundation for women’s football in Iowa.

Having first enlisted in the Army in 1990, she would retire with the rank of Master Sergeant in 2012 from the Iowa Army National Guard. While she was a competitive softball player who competed on various military teams, she would first play female football in Berlin, Germany for the Berlin Adler Girls. While she would become the first competitor in Women’s Football Alliance history to post 20 sacks in an 8 game season, she would be deployed to the Middle East in 2009.

Master Sergeant Hirakawa would serve as one of the first superstars in Iowa women's football

Master Sergeant Hirakawa would serve as one of the first superstars in Iowa women’s football

The WFA would have another proud member of the military shape its proud history. Kristin Love served as the division officer for the Patient Administration Department at the Naval Hospital at Camp Pendleton. When not serving as a lieutenant with the Marine Corps, Love could be seen on the gridiron competing as a defensive back with the San Diego Surge.

Upon discovering that her camp did not have a women’s flag football team, Love would not only find a spot on the Surge roster, but she would play in the squad’s inaugural game. Donning number 19 with the Surge, she would be part of another historic chapter with the franchise. In 2012, the Surge won the WFA National Championship. Contested at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, it was the first women’s football game ever contested at an NFL stadium.

A systems engineer with the Missile Defense Agency, Shawn Bailey would have her own connection to football in California. Having studied at the University of Southern California, she would be part of the school’s fan culture for its football team.

While she would play softball, soccer and women’s lacrosse, the opportunity to play football would present itself at a peculiar time. As the mother of a pre-teen son playing flag football, a suggestion was made to have an exhibition game between the boys and their moms. After the adrenaline of competing in said game, Bailey found an ad on social media for the Pikes Peak Storm of the Foxy Football League.

Although Bailey was 38 at the time, she would not only make the team, but she would part of their transition from the Foxy Football League to the IWFL. Rechristened as the Colorado Sting, Bailey would travel to Round Rock, Texas to compete in the Tier 3 IWFL Championship Game in July 2012. Ironically, Arpin of the Montreal Blitz was also in Round Rock as her squad captured the Tier 1 title. As a side note, one of Bailey’s coaches, Oscar Loveless also has ties to the military; serving as a Tech. Sergeant in the 50th Civil Engineering Squadron NCO.

Stationed out of Virginia, Erin Alyssa Stewart would make the 90-minute journey to Baltimore, Maryland in order to compete for the Legends Football League. Originally, she had plans to try out for the Chicago Bliss franchise but her transfer to Virginia altered her plans. Having played with the Baltimore Charm in 2011 (of note, Vargas would try out for the team in 2012), she was offered a roster spot after the first day that she tried out with the team.

Erin Alyssa Stewart practicing with the Baltimore Charm

Erin Alyssa Stewart practicing with the Baltimore Charm

Having graduated from Chicago Military Academy Bronzeville, she would earn a Master’s Degree in Law Enforcement and Justice Administration. With her father having served in the Army, she would proudly follow in his footsteps. Becoming a member of the military in 2008, she also has a brother in the Marines and a sister in the US Army reserves.

The unique mosaic of women’s football weaves a remarkable tapestry filled with diversity, perseverance and a true sense of teamwork. Those are the same values that help to shape the core of today’s brave soldiers, women and men in today’s military. While not all female football players with military service could be recognized, their contributions to preserving our way of life and protecting our borders helps to ensure that the future of women’s football is one that will continue to shine brightly.

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