The Turkey Bowl is a long-standing Army tradition in which units - typically battalion-sized elements - pit some of their noncommissioned officers against the officers in a game of competitive rivalry, though most games end with a boost in morale. Written article below:

JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. - Who knew dividing an Army unit could actually bring it closer together?

That’s the end result the 864th Engineer Battalion saw Nov. 18 during a morning football game on Lewis-North that was part of a storied Army tradition pitting noncommissioned officers against commissioned officers in competitive rivalry.

“As much as we get out there and heckle each other and have fun, it gives you that opportunity to just kind of come together,” said Master Sgt. Christipher Shetland, the battalion’s senior operations sergeant and the commentator for the game, dubbed the Turkey Bowl. “The officers work together as a team and the NCOs work together as a team, but at the end of the day it’s still ‘one team, one fight.’”

It’s a unifying motto heard everywhere in the military, but it’s one this battalion, whose Soldiers are commonly referred to as the Pacemakers, lives by, Shetland says.

And its commander, Lt. Col. John Henderson, sees competitive events as something stronger than just team unifiers. To him, recreational activities like the Turkey Bowl actually assist in the accomplishment of a unit’s mission.

“At the end of the day, the camaraderie and the team building lead to a better command climate, and command climate is absolutely essential to our mission,” said Henderson, who captained the officers’ team. “I can link the Turkey Bowl, believe it or not, back to an essential piece of our accomplishing the mission.”

He admitted just about every unit he has ever been a part of has upheld the illustrious fall football tradition.

Shetland said many battalions across the Army hold their own Turkey Bowls, typically facing NCOs off against officers, as is usually the custom.

At the 864th Eng. Bn. it’s annual – a pre-Thanksgiving staple that kicks off the holiday season with a bit of lightheartedness.

“Football is part of the Thanksgiving tradition,” Henderson said, “and it’s a good opportunity to kind of take a break from normal duties, and get out and blow off some steam, and kind of send everybody home for the holidays on a good note.”

Shetland said that in his long-running experience with Turkey Bowls the goal has commonly been to pay Soldiers back for the time they put in at work.

“It’s a tradition that has steeped for years and years back that, especially during the holiday season, gives those Soldiers who have been working so hard throughout the year the opportunity to really kick back for an hour or two and just enjoy the day,” he said.

“It’s a way to reward the Soldiers for all that they’ve done.”

For Staff Sgt. Brian Flores, a supply sergeant for the battalions’ Forward Support Company, the game presented a chance to mingle with those at a higher level in the battalion – staff officers he seldom even sees.

“Most of the officers who work up at the company or battalion – you don’t ever really get to see them besides when they’re in formations,” he said, “so to be able to push one of them, or block one of them, or something like that, you get a little more into knowing them.”

But all good rivalries – even those that aid in building strong units and successfully accomplishing missions – come with their fair share of trash talking. And in the case of the Turkey Bowl, there will be plenty of that floating around the 864th Eng. Bn. for months to come.

“Unfortunately the officers are probably going to have to hear about it, I’m sure,” said Henderson, coming to terms with a 12-7 score in favor of the NCO team.

“Until the next Turkey Bowl, when we win,” he added with a smirk.

The Pacific Northwest morning showed no mercy in letting up its heavy and persistent rainfall – perfect for slipping, sliding, and most of all mud.

And as the NCOs and officers chased relentlessly after one another – all in good fun, of course – tromping and slipping about across a soggy field, the day might have been summed up best by the age-old adage that when you work hard, sometimes you have to play hard, too.

“I think the command climate here in the 864th Engineer Battalion really breeds this kind of an atmosphere, where they’re going to work hard, but they’re going to play hard,” Shetland said.

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