Veterans sometimes deal with a tough process during their exit from the military. Finding new job opportunities, looking to finish their degrees, and trying to reestablish relationships in the civilian world are all challenges.

Additionally, finding a physical activity can be hard as well; that’s why a group of veterans created the Columbia Warriors hockey team. The group was founded in 2017, looking to give veterans an opportunity to make new friendships with people of the same background.

Victor Rodriguez was a big force in helping create the team, making their jerseys, logo and website. The growth, for Rodriguez, has been a humbling.

“That kind of growth and acceptance of the mission. Super cool.”

Victor served in the Marines in the early 2000s until 2015, when an injury forced his exit. Having never played hockey, Rodriguez said that the fellow veterans as well as the regular crowd of players taught him just about everything they could. Now he skates at the same level as most who play on Thursday nights in Irmo.

Rodriguez, as well as a few others with the Warriors all said that since its formation, one “mission” has always been in mind, creating comradery similar to their days of service. The team started with only ten but has grown significantly to over 40 veterans of almost every branch.

Rodriguez said that he can feel similarities between service and the sport; the attention to detail needed to succeed, is the same as his former job as a recon man for the Marine Corps. The team room talks, which has turned into the locker room talks, feel the same as chatting it up with his fellow service men and women.

Jared Evans, who helped found the Student Veteran Association for the University of South Carolina, thinks the Warriors have created an amazing opportunity.

“A sense of belonging goes a long way with veterans. I think one percent of the country serves right? So, you’re in a kind of small band of brothers and sisters who have done what you’ve done.”

Evans, also a Marine Corps veteran, said that the military bond is different: everything  from the sense of humor, to how they operate. Having those bonds carries a lot of power for Veterans.

Rodriguez has developed an extremely close personal attachment to the program. It’s not just showing up to play hockey, enjoy drinks and go home. The team means a lot more.

“It’s home. It’s home. It feels like I never left the military.”

The home environment that he feels has stuck with a lot of others. What is usually just a competitive, fun natured sport, carries emotion, and a very close tie to those who want to experience the same feeling they shared when they made the choice to serve their country.