FORT HOOD, Texas – When one Lancer soldier is not out on the battlefield or training, he fights a different kind of battle on the rugby pitch with Fort Hood’s sanctioned rugby team: Phantom Warriors.
Spc. Griffin Simmons, Fiji Islands native and healthcare specialist assigned to Company B of the 2nd “Lancer” Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st “Ironhorse” Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, has been playing rugby since he could run.
Growing up, Simmons played rugby on the beaches of Fiji using coconuts, bottles or shoes when no proper ball was available.
The rules are very similar to American football except there are no pads, helmets or forward passing. Football later developed from rugby, changing to become more fashionable, safer and marketable.
Simmons played rugby through high school and college at the Fiji School of Medicine. After moving to the United States, he played for a year with a Houston team and toured the country.
Capt. Carlos De Castro Pretelt, Barranquilla, Colombia, native and commander of G Forward Support Company attached to the 2nd Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd “Greywolf” Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cav. Div. is the Phantom Warriors forwards coach.
“We call him Fiji on the pitch,” De Castro Pretelt said about Simmons. “Everybody has a nickname.”
De Castro Pretelt is glad to have Simmons on the team because of his experience growing up playing rugby.
“It’s just part of my culture,” Simmons explained. “Pacific Islanders are very big rugby players.”
Simmons believes because Pacific Islanders are accustomed to playing in soft sand, they are known for being very heavy hitters.
At 5-feet-10 inches tall and 215 pounds, Simmons thinks he is small for a Pacific Islander.
The beautiful thing about rugby is it accommodates all shapes and sizes, explained the Phantom Warriors head coach and San Antonio native, Capt. Jason Williams, a pre-mobilization planner assigned to the 1st Army Division West.
“Although size, strength and speed matters, most of it is about spirit and will,” Simmons explained.
De Castro Pretelt associated rugby to a game of chess because each player has a tactical position according to their body type, capabilities and strengths.
Uneven matchups happen frequently and smaller players often face heavier, taller players who should, by every account, run them over, Simmons explained.
“For you to have the personal strength, the courage to take on somebody that size and the sheer will to be able to put him down and defend your line (is) the most amazing feeling in the world,” Simmons continued.
Simmons mentioned while teams try to win, they don’t necessarily want the opponent to get hurt so they can play each other again another day.
“It really is a gentlemanly sport, (as) violent as it is.” Simmons added.
Simmons explained a saying known to many rugby players: “soccer is a game for gentlemen played by hooligans, while rugby is a game for hooligans played by gentlemen.”
“While you’re on the field you let go,” De Castro Pretelt explained. “You just try and hit (the other) guy as hard as you can where it hurts him the most with everything you have.”
Simmons added the intensity that happens on the field is vented and left on the field.
“That’s part of the camaraderie about rugby,” Williams explained.
Teams rough each other up during the game then go out to eat, share stories and have a good time, Williams continued.
De Castro Pretelt said the Phantom Warriors are fortunate to have support from the Morale, Welfare and Recreation Center allowing the team to travel to play tournaments.
The team is grateful the MWR has helped with tournament entry fees, kept up the practice field and provided the Phantom Warriors with what they need to be successful, Williams added.
“The only thing that we’re actually lacking is volunteers,” De Castro Pretelt continued. “We need to get the word out there and show people that (rugby is) not all about size.”
Williams mentioned one challenge for the Phantom Warriors is that they are unable to maintain consistent players due to conflicting schedules, deployments and training.
“Our primary job is being a soldier and that does come first,” Williams added.
Simmons believes he is lucky to have a very good support system in his company.
“They really encourage us to take part in things like this because they understand the value,” Simmons added.
Simmons explained some qualities taught in the Army already exist on the playing field. Rugby deals with concepts like controlled aggression, listening to commands and leadership.
Williams thinks rugby emulates the Army Values and is the ultimate team sport.
“There is something to be said for bleeding together, winning together, and losing together,” Simmons explained.
Simmons believes this sport is similar to his job as a senior line medic in an infantry platoon because players put their bodies on the line for their comrades.
Players have to work together in order to win a game or have an effective offense and defense, Williams added.
“It’s not like football where one person can make a play that defines an entire game,” Williams continued.
“You have to trust the man or woman to your left and to your right in order to succeed in this sport,” De Castro Pretelt added.
Simmons said he feels as close to his rugby team as he does to the brothers he deployed and went to war with.
“It forms a brotherhood that I have no comparison for,” Simmons added.
Williams explained the Phantom Warriors don’t use rank on the rugby field.
“We’re all brothers trying to win a game and do the best that we can,” Williams added.
De Castro Pretelt said Simmons treats the team like family.
“We don’t shake hands.” De Castro Pretelt added. “We hug whenever we see each other.”
By playing with coconuts instead of traditional structured rugby while growing up in Fiji, Simmons learned to play by analyzing the field, De Castro Pretelt said.
Simmons is a very knowledgeable player because he has been playing this sport for so long, Williams added.
De Castro Pretelt thinks Simmons has a sort of natural instinct greatly benefiting the team.
“He serves as an inspiration of what they can become,” De Castro Pretelt added.
Williams said Simmons’ in depth knowledge of the game and basic skills helps him come up with practice drills for the younger players.
De Castro Pretelt believes if the Phantom Warriors can master what Simmons knows in addition to the traditional strategic way of playing rugby the team will be phenomenal.
“You are going to play against people who outweigh you, who outreach you, who are probably faster than you, but that’s the whole point of the game,” Simmons said.
“What is life without a little bit of a challenge,” Simmons asked. “How do you know your limits if you don’t test them?”
The Phantom Warriors are constantly searching for players to join them on the pitch. Any soldier interested in trying out for the team may contact Stephanie Mann, MWR Varsity Sports Coordinator, at (254) 287-5405.