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Soldiers get close look at Vatican, score soccer victory over Swiss Guards

Pope Francis rolls on a motorscooter through a crowd gathered Wednesday, Sept. 26, 2018 at St. Peter's Square in Vatican City for the weekly papal audience. Members of an American military soccer team, which beat the Vatican Swiss Guards in a Monday match, attended the event as part of a cultural exchange through the BOSS program.

SCOTT WYLAND/STARS AND STRIPES

By SCOTT WYLAND | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 26, 2018

VATICAN CITY – Most of the U.S. military soccer team from Vicenza didn’t understand the Italian and Latin that Pope Francis used to address the audience at St. Peter’s Square on Wednesday, but they appreciated seeing the pope up close and experiencing the grandeur of this ancient city.

And just as rewarding was the team’s 3-1 victory during a hard-fought match on Monday against the Swiss Guards, the security force that has protected the pope and his residence for more than 500 years.

The 22-player team, which formed last year with the help of a program for single servicemembers, traveled from Vicenza to Rome, where members had a chance to learn about the city’s culture and history.

Team members described the soccer match against the Swiss Guards and their experiences in Vatican City as a rare opportunity they could get only in the military.

“It’s once in a lifetime,” Staff Sgt. Justin Underwood said as he stood in St. Peter’s Square after attending the papal audience, where the soldiers had a spot near the front. “You just have to be grateful of that.”

Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers, or BOSS, offers single servicemembers constructive off-duty activities, such as recreation, travel and volunteer work. The Vicenza BOSS last year formed a soccer team to play the Swiss Guards for the first time, tour historic sites such as the Vatican museums and allow players to attend religious services in the seat of Catholicism.

The Swiss Guards beat last year’s team 2-0, stoking the Americans’ desire for payback.

Organizers said that the lineup for this year’s team had to be changed at the last minute because a field exercise forced most players from the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team to bow out.

The hastily formed team played an energetic and competitive match. Spc. Mensford Owusu scored two goals early for Vicenza, and the Swiss Guards were never able to catch up.

“They were pretty decent,” Owusu said of the Swiss Guards. “I didn’t think they were going to be this good. But they gave us a run for our money.”

The teams played at night, on a field with a clear view of St. Peter’s Basilica.

Staff Sgt. Jim Davis, who is Catholic, said being in Vatican City made the trip more meaningful than playing soccer anywhere else.

The next morning, Davis and a dozen other team members attended a Mass celebrated by Chaplain (Lt. Col.) James Peak in the catacombs where St. Peter’s remains are entombed.

“Just being in this place with the history around it and all the extra meaning it has makes receiving Mass here extra special,” Davis said.

The Swiss Guards was formed in 1506 by Pope Julius II. Guards must be Swiss citizens, have completed military basic training and be unmarried when recruited.

wyland.scott@stripes.com
Twitter: @wylandstripes
  

Members of a Vicenza BOSS soccer team attend a Mass given by Chaplain (Lt. Col.) James Peak on Tuesday Sept. 25, 2018 in the catacombs beneath St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, Italy. The team beat the Vatican Swiss Guard 3-1 in a soccer match the previous night. Touring Vatican City and attending religious events are part of a cultural exchange for the soldiers.
SCOTT WYLAND/STARS AND STRIPES

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