The Nigerian Armed Forces Polo Association invited the USPA Armed Forces Committee to send a team to participate in a 2- to 5-goal international military polo tournament in the capital city of Abuja, January 8-15, 2018. International military tournaments like this provide the opportunity to improve military to military relations between the U.S. and other countries. The event was the second time the Nigerians have hosted a large military tournament, the first being in January, 2006 in Kano, Nigeria. That event was attended by military teams from the United Kingdom, USA, South Africa, Egypt, India and Nigeria, and was deemed a success by all involved. Teams for this year’s event came from Morocco, Egypt, India, Pakistan, the U.S. and Nigeria.

The delegation assembled by the Armed Forces Committee to attend this event included Marine Captain Jeffrey Palmer and Army Sergeant First Class Joseph England who are stationed in Virginia, Army Sergeant Alex Wicker stationed in Vicenza, Italy, Marine Reserve Sergeant Chris Jones from Texas, former Army Sergeant Paul Knapp from Michigan and, serving as Chef D’Equipe, retired Army Major Mark Gillespie from Virginia. The American team’s handicap was 3-goals and all other teams had entered 5-goal teams.

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The five foreign teams drew their pony strings from a variety of horses assembled for the event and the Nigerian team rode their own horses. The teams were divided into two brackets of three teams each to produce the two teams to compete in the finals. By luck of the draw, the American team fell in the bracket with the Nigerian and Moroccan teams and was scheduled to play the Nigerians on the first day of competition. The Nigerian team had been preparing for this tournament for months and had their leaves cancelled for Christmas and New Years in order to practice together for the matches. In contrast, the American team played for the first time together when the ball was bowled in. Despite the lack of any practice together and playing on a challenging string of horses, the American team captained on the field by veteran player Paul Knapp played with pluck and a degree of ability that surprised their opponents.

   The team accompanied by Nigerian ushers and a Nigerian military groom, from left to right Army Sergeant Alex Wicker, Marine Reserve Sergeant Chris Jones, former Army Sergeant Paul Knapp, Army Sergeant First Class Joe England and Marine Captain Jeff Palmer.
The team accompanied by Nigerian ushers and a Nigerian military groom, from left to right Army Sergeant Alex Wicker, Marine Reserve Sergeant Chris Jones, former Army Sergeant Paul Knapp, Army Sergeant First Class Joe England and Marine Captain Jeff Palmer.

The American team’s strategy in the first match was to play their best horses in the first chukker to match as best they could the home team’s string of fine horses. Once the game began, the fast attacking combination of Paul Knapp sending passes up to Chris Jones who threaded the ball through a stunned Nigerian defense left the score at the end of the first chukker 5-1 in favor of the Americans. The Nigerians quickly caught up in the following chukkers by wisely double teaming Jones to shut down his attacks. The Americans managed one more goal on a penalty shot while the Nigerians sailed ahead on their speedy mounts to score an additional six goals to win the game. Many Nigerian dignitaries including their Minister of Defense and Vice President, as well as ambassadors and other foreign dignitaries came to watch the games played during the tournament.

The Americans next faced the Moroccan team led by Santiago Novillo Astrada. Their team beat the Americans, and subsequently did the same to the Nigerians, as well as Pakistan (the winners of the other bracket) who had defeated both the Indian and Egyptian teams. Representatives from all the teams participated in the Nigerian Armed Forces Remembrance Day ceremonies on the morning following the finals and all participants had the chance for a quick peek around the city of Abuja before departing that evening. The event offered a great opportunity to meet and establish friendships with military players from different countries which should help strengthen relationships that will pay dividends in the future. In addition, as a result of the camaraderie generated at the event, the Americans have been invited to send military teams to India and Pakistan.

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