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NEWS | Dec. 18, 2018

Strength in volunteering: U.S. Soldiers participate in charity game in Romania

By Staff Sgt. Kris Bonet 24th Theater Public Affairs Support Element

She was very nervous. It was noticeable by how she paced in and out of a small locker room area underneath the stands. She looked at the crowd, and then at her phone. Possibly as a calming strategy to focus on the next task. Or perhaps, texting family for support.

The crowd roared outside the locker room, cheering for the players who interacted with them before beginning the basketball game. Some of these players, U.S. Army Soldiers, would throw basketballs to the teenagers in the crowd for an opportunity to throw it back into the basket from their seats. The crowd loved it. People practically jumped out of their seats for an opportunity to interact with the U.S. Soldiers playing in the game. 

She walks out of the locker room one more time.

“The energy in here is wonderful,” said Sgt. Alyssa Malott, an Army Reserve civil affairs noncommissioned officer who volunteered to sing the national anthem. “You can feel the positive energy so I am trying not to worry too much.”

This was the first time in her life she would sing the national anthem in front of a crowd. She volunteered to sing the anthem once before, when she attended Basic Leader Course back in 2012.

“I tried out once and I didn’t make it,” Malott laughed. “I love to sing, but not in front of people.”

Regardless of how nervous she felt, she still volunteered to represent her Army and her nation. She has plenty of experience volunteering in Elkhart, Indiana: non-profit work providing youth with after-school activities, and helping a family homestead in their private farm. Her other volunteer experience comes as a reserve Soldier with the 415th Civil Affairs Battalion, 353rd Civil Affairs Command out of Kalamazoo, Michigan.

And finally, there she was. Standing in the middle of the Sala Sporturilor basketball court in Constanta, Romania. A crowd of thousands, as well as her Army peers, with all eyes on her. The place fell quiet as everyone showed their respects to the singing of the Star-Spangled Banner. Only the camera shutters of the local press taking photos could be heard. She raised the microphone to her lips, and she sang.

“And the home of the brave,” she ended the anthem as the crowd of standing Romanians applauded her.

“Instead of worrying about how my voice sounded I was thinking about that long night of fighting,” said Malott. “I was thinking about how many soldiers; past, present, and future; have fought for their nations. Not just in America, but all over. Even if they weren’t soldiers, people who felt that call, that need to protect their own, protect their families, their community, their nation, their partners and their neighbors.”

The charity basketball game was a friendly competition between mixed teams comprised of Soldiers stationed at Mihail Kogalniceanu Airbase, Romania and the Phoenix Constanta women’s professional basketball team.

“We’re here supporting the children,” said Sgt. Leroy Westcooper, a motor transport sergeant with the 24th Composite Truck Company, 1st Infantry Division. “We’re here to put on a good show and have a good time.”

To enjoy access to the event, people brought in toys for donation to the less fortunate children of Romania.

Malott’s mission while deployed with the 415th CA BN is to demonstrate presence, develop a civil, common operational picture, support civil-military cooperation and integrate with NATO partners Romania and Bulgaria. Events like the charity basketball game strengthen the relationship between the U.S. and Romania, demonstrating the U.S.’s commitment not only to the country’s military, but it’s people as well.

“Looking around and seeing how everyone was excited for the purpose of this basketball game, bringing together not just two communities, but two nations, to support each other in helping families in need was really beautiful,” said Malott.