By Michael P. Mauer
When athletes get hurt while playing sports, trainers are often quick to put on the ice. For two Mon Valley veterans, their therapy involves getting on the ice.
Air Force veteran Richard J. Betler and retired Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer David G. Jackel II both lace on skates as part of the Pittsburgh Warriors Hockey program. The two members of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 914 Intrepid West Mifflin also agree that hockey helps them decompress from the stress they experienced in the military.
“I really enjoy playing for this team because we are completely focused on brotherhood and healing from whatever physical and mental battles we may be facing,” said Jackel, a veteran of the Global War on Terrorism. “We aspire to be good ambassadors for the game of hockey, and the veterans in and around the city of Pittsburgh.”
“Hockey helps me experience some of the same unselfish teamwork I had in the Air Force,” said Betler, an Afghanistan campaign veteran. “On the ice, we all have to act quickly together to stay competitive. That type of adrenaline flow really helps me focus on other areas in my life.”
A nonprofit organization, the Pittsburgh Warriors Hockey Team is made up of honorably discharged, disabled veterans that use hockey to help fight the physical and mental scars of military service. The group’s mission also encourages team members to be more productive in their communities, and build relationships with fellow veterans.
To skate for the team, candidates are required to provide a Veterans Administration disability letter, as well as proper discharge documentation noted on a DD Form 214. The group is affiliated with the Pittsburgh Penguins of the National Hockey League through the Hockey Sticks Together Foundation, and wears that professional team’s logo on its sweaters. The Warriors team is the only nonprofit disabled veteran hockey squad authorized for this honor.
“I am extremely proud to wear the jersey and represent our area’s veterans when we travel throughout the country,” said Jackel, who plays right wing and is an alternate captain. “Hockey truly is for everyone. “
“It is a great bridge for veterans,” he added. “It brings a warrior mentality into a team environment.”
Jackel also said that what he gets from playing hockey is similar to his experiences in uniform.
“It fills a void that a lot of us had when we left the military,” the former sailor said.
Teammate Betler who plays goal agreed.
“We play solid, aggressive hockey, but are very disciplined and respectful of each other and our opponents,” said Betler. “Like the Air Force, it is a team I’m proud to be part of.”
The team’s next scheduled competition is slated for the middle of June at the American Hero Hockey Tournament in Toledo, OH. Last year, the Pittsburgh Warriors took a divisional runner-up slot during the USA Hockey Warrior Festival in Las Vegas, NV, and is hoping to do better at the event again this October.
In addition to wearing the Pittsburgh Penguins logo on their camouflage sweaters, Jackel and Betler also get to prepare at that NHL club’s UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry, PA. The Warriors team usually practices three to four times each month.
Ice time, equipment, uniforms, travel and lodging are all funded by donations through Hockey Sticks Together, the Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation, and various other businesses and individuals. Personal equipment is preferred, but not required.
Off the ice, both Mon Valley hockey players are active in veterans’ affairs and their communities. Jackel serves as a volunteer firefighter in West Mifflin, while Betler works for the Veterans Administration. As a member of VFW Post 914, Jackel has organized several community events, including Memorial Day Services at Mitchell Paige Park, West Mifflin. Betler has participated in veterans’ group fundraisers, including the Disabled American Veterans Colonel Samuel D. Foster Post 76 annual installation and dance.
It was at such an event this past February that Betler won an opportune prize – two tickets to see the Pittsburgh Penguins play at the PPG Paints Arena.
“It was a great game,” the Air Force veteran said. “The Pens won, and so did I.”
For more information about VFW Post 914 and its activities, visit the group’s website at: http://traa.weebly.com/vfw-post-914.html contact Post Commander Jake Bradich at: 412-464-9838.
(Michael P. Mauer is the Public Affairs Officer for VFW District 29. He served as an Army photojournalist during Operation Desert Storm, and was awarded the Joint Service Commendation Medal by Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf for his actions during the war.)