701st MUNSS Airman uses football to strengthen partnership

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Zachary Martin, 701st Munitions Support Squadron emergency actions controller, speaks to members of his local football team, the Limburg Shotguns, near Kleine Brogel Air Base, Belgium. Martin coaches the team, giving Belgians and Americans the opportunity to interact and learn from each other. (courtesy photo)

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Zachary Martin, 701st Munitions Support Squadron emergency actions controller, speaks to members of his local football team, the Limburg Shotguns, near Kleine Brogel Air Base, Belgium. Martin coaches the team, giving Belgians and Americans the opportunity to interact and learn from each other. (courtesy photo)

Members of the Limburg Shotguns, a team in the Belgian American football league, huddle after a practice near Kleine Brogel Air Base, Belgium. U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Zachary Martin, 701st Munitions Support Squadron emergency actions controller and Shotguns coach, participated in the league, which allows Belgians and Americans to play side-by-side. (courtesy photo)

Members of the Limburg Shotguns, a team in the Belgian American football league, huddle after a practice near Kleine Brogel Air Base, Belgium. U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Zachary Martin, 701st Munitions Support Squadron emergency actions controller and Shotguns coach, participated in the league, which allows Belgians and Americans to play side-by-side. (courtesy photo)

KLEINE BROGEL AIR BASE, Belgium -- Football is a way of life for most Americans. Whether playing the game, watching it on TV or hearing about it in the news, most people living in the U.S. are exposed to the sport from childhood. One Airman from the 701st Munitions Support Squadron, a geographically separated unit of the 52nd Fighter Wing, used his love of football to help strengthen the partnership between two nations.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Zachary Martin, 701st MUNSS emergency actions controller, is using his time at Kleine Brogel Air Base, Belgium, to not only accomplish the mission on-duty, but also teach the local population how to play American football.

"I never experienced the coaching side of football before but I still jumped at the opportunity," said Martin. "I mean, why not, it's football!"

Martin has been an avid football player since his childhood but is currently unable to play due to a shoulder surgery. For the South Texas native, it was a perfect opportunity to get back to his roots and also make connections in the local community. Martin heard about the team from a friend who told him a Belgian team needed a coach for their American football team.

They were looking for an American to coach the team since it is much more popular in the U.S., he said.

"I'm from the football mecca known as Texas, and since my older brothers played football so did I," said the former University of Houston defensive end. "It wasn't until I was approached about this coaching opportunity that I decided to be involved in football again."

Coaching a joint U.S. and Belgian team is more than a way to have fun with the locals. Team-building interactions such as this are crucial to host-nation relations and partnership.

"All (that the host-nation citizens) know about America is what they see on TV and American music, and this situation gives us an opportunity to narrow the gap and bring us both closer as nations," said Martin.

The discussions between teammates go much broader than football. The interaction gives both countries the opportunity to learn about culture and customs, he said, and goes one step further than the military partnership already in place.

"Football has a lot in common with real life," said Michel Eeman, middle linebacker for the Shotguns. "It makes people work as one, while doing the best they can to help out the guy next to them on the field."

Playing football helps off the field as well, he said, teaching life values such as pushing through obstacles and being resilient.

"Football is hard, but I think that friendships that are made on the gridiron are special," Eeman added.

Whether it is football or some other activity, the ball player from South Texas understands the importance of building trust and relationships with host nations.

"We all act as U.S. ambassadors representing our nation," Martin said, adding he is thankful for the opportunity to give back to Belgium.