SOUTHWEST ASIA – A force protection airman with the 386th Expeditionary Civil Engineering Squadron serves as a player, referee and commissioner of a multinational floor hockey league to keep his favorite sport up and running at his deployed location.
"I started playing hockey in my neighbor's driveway when I was 5, and I played ice hockey in junior high school," Air Force Senior Airman Daniel Nester said. "My cousin took me to my first St. Louis Blues game, and I've been a hockey and Blues fan ever since."
An evening physical training session reunited Nester with his favorite sport in the most unlikely of places -- Southwest Asia.
"I found out about the league in early December 2012 when I just happen to be in the gym on a Friday night and they were playing hockey," he said. "I went out and played the next couple of Fridays, and I got a lot of positive compliments about my knowledge and insight for the game of hockey."
When the redeploying commissioner asked him about taking over the league, Nester jumped at the opportunity. Over the next couple of weeks, he got his feet wet with the administrative side of the game while also playing and refereeing matches.
"I had to organize the schedule, keep the statistics, set up the games, [and] organize the playoffs, the championship game and the All-Star game," he said.
While he would rather simply play the game he loves, Nester said, he knows being an active commissioner will keep the league going. "Everything reflects on the commissioner," he said. "You are responsible for keeping it at a professional level, yet making it exciting to where people want to get out there."
The seemingly endless turnover of personnel during deployments is another challenge the young commissioner soon will face.
"The hardest part, which is coming soon, is keeping people in the league despite rotations," he said. "It's hard to get the word out when you have over half of your league redeploying back to the states or to their home stations."
Fortunately for Nester, he receives a lot of support from coalition service members whose national pastime just happens to be hockey. "The Canadians are always a great help," he said. "They arrive early when they have late games, and they are always willing to come down and offer some expertise."
The league's final match of the season pitted the undefeated Canadian team against the 12 best players from the league's other four teams in an all-star type of match-up for bragging rights and the coveted hockey trophy.
"The Canadians are a very skilled hockey team, but it is possible to put a team together to beat them," Nester said.
While Nester's all-star team fell short in a 7-3 loss to the Canadian team, the camaraderie and sportsmanship contributed to Nester's determination to make the hockey league a success.
"I love the game of hockey, and if I leave the league better than I found it -- better than when it was given to me -- then I would say I was successful as commissioner," he said.