The Army had Joe DiMaggio and Pat Tillman, among others.
The Navy: Roger Staubach, David Robinson, Bob Feller, and Yogi Berra, to name a few.
Ted Williams served in the Marines.
But the Air Force? Its top athletes apparently have been NFL players Chad Hennings and Bryce Fisher, who aren’t exactly household names.
2nd Lt. Greg Flynn, a 2009 Air Force Academy grad, is making a bid to change that. Flynn, an All-American hockey player last year, is pulling double duty as a contract manager at Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass., and a rookie defenseman for the Lowell Devils of the American Hockey League.
Flynn is playing for the Devils, a minor league affiliate of the NHL’s New Jersey franchise, under an “amateur tryout contract.”
His left-handed slap shot helped make Flynn the nation’s top-scoring defenseman in 2009, posting 7 goals and 35 assists in 39 games, but he had yet to record a point in six games played with Lowell as of Jan. 22.
“The biggest thing I need to do is to adjust to the speed of the game,” Flynn said in an Air Force press release. “I need to improve on the little things of the game, being in the right place all the time and trying to be a step ahead of the game. The guys in this league are future NHL players. They know exactly where they need to be and what they are doing all the time. I have a lot to learn on the hockey side, but I know that my priority is the Air Force, and I take a lot of pride in that.”
Defense Department policy states that active-duty service members pursuing careers in professional sports must serve a minimum of 24 months.
“Playing professional hockey is an unbelievable opportunity, but I am an officer in the Air Force and very proud of that,” Flynn said.
Flynn wakes up at 5:30 a.m. and gets to the office at Hanscom by 6:30. After a few hours at the office, he heads to Lowell for the Devils’ late morning practice and then returns to Hanscom to complete his duty day.
“The day is a little like playing at the Academy, when I had class and then practice and back to the dorms at about 7 p.m.,” Flynn said. “The difference is that now I don’t have homework.”
Flynn, who started playing hockey as a seven-year old boy in Minnesota, has always dreamed of playing professionally.
“From the time I was a kid, I always dreamed of playing in the (National Hockey League),” Flynn said. “I grew up a North Stars fan and always thought to myself, ‘hopefully that is me one day.’”
While it might still be a long road to the NHL for Flynn, Academy hockey coach Frank Serratore said his former player might have what it takes.
“He’s a big, tough, durable defenseman who can also make things happen when the puck is on his stick,” Serratore said in the Air Force release. “His greatest strength as a pro is that he doesn’t have a weakness. That makes him real enticing as a pro. The way he works, and his intensity, I would not bet against this guy in anything he wanted to do.”