Ohio National Guard News

'Hard as Nails'
Ohio Guard member plays for All-Army Rugby Team

Story by Staff Sgt. Chad Menegay, 196th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

U.S. All-Army Rugby 7s Team.

Spc. Zackaree Forro (front row, third from left), a communications specialist with the 137th Signal Company out of Newark, Ohio, played as a member of the U.S. All-Army Rugby 7s Team in the Armed Forces Rugby Sevens Championships in 2015 and 2017. Forro's play in college and as a member of the Army team earned him an invite to train with the U.S. Olympic Men's Rugby Team in September, and he is now being evaluated as a potential member of the U.S. team. (Courtesy photo)

Spc. Zackaree Forro tapes up. Spc. Zackaree Forro fights off a would-be Army tackler.

(Left) Spc. Zackaree Forro tapes up for his Notre Dame College team’s rugby match versus ninth-ranked Army Sept. 24, 2017, in South Euclid, Ohio. Forro also had an ankle heavily taped, as he played through a high-ankle sprain. (Right) Forro fights off a would-be Army tackler, as his 10th-ranked Notre Dame College team works toward a 31-26 win. The win was perhaps NDC's best-ever victory in rugby 15s and provided bragging rights for Forro as he beat his service's collegiate team. (Staff Sgt. Chad Menegay, ONG)

Spc. Zackaree ForroColumbus, OH (12/28/17) — Zackaree Forro has a dream to play rugby as an Olympian. To get there, he’s been working hard to forge himself under stress as steel to heat and pressure.

Warm-weathered and hurricane-stricken Puerto Rico was the grounds for his metalworking this fall. Spc. Forro, a communications specialist with the 137th Signal Company out of Newark, Ohio, deployed there with about 40 Soldiers in October and November, providing mobile satellite, telephone, internet and information technology support for military assets after Hurricane Maria.

“(We were) working side by side with FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) to setup an application center for people to get emergency relief and (also conducting) food and water missions to bring aid to people who (couldn’t) come get it,” Forro said.

The mission came midsemester in his senior year at Notre Dame College in South Euclid, Ohio, and midseason for his school rugby team’s playoff push as a nationally-ranked contender.

Aside from maybe rugby, it’s a sacrifice that all Guard members understand. Every Guard member understands that keeping balance, while running through one’s civilian life on one side and one’s military life on the other side, can be difficult. One might tackle two other jobs to make more money to cover expenses. One might take on a heavy load of challenging classes. One might struggle to find space for family and friends. Every Soldier’s run between the two commitments is unique, but most learn how to break through and find their legs in the balance. Typically, it’s accomplished through hard work and the application of good advice.

For Forro, a short kid with a strong build and quick step from Mentor, Ohio, both work and play — his deployment to Kuwait and his inclusion on the All-Army 7s Rugby side, respectively — served as proving grounds for finding his balance through hardship.

“Balancing the Guard, the sport that I’m on scholarship for and school, which I’m taking 19 credit hours right now, gets hectic, but it makes me push harder. I feel like I will be successful because I’m used to being busy,” Forro said.

Forro deployed to the 100-degree temperatures of Kuwait and practiced rugby, an exhaustingly physical endurance sport, with the Kuwait National Rugby Team as part of a greater public relations effort — a multicultural, multinational experience.
“That was such a valuable learning experience,” Forro said. “The person I am today, and the player I am, even is affected by that deployment.”

Forro, like many Guard members, signed up for the military to help fund his college education, but he says it was always in his plans to join the military.

“I really wanted to attend college and get my degree,” Forro said. “The military was always something that I felt strongly about, and I wanted to serve after I graduated. I found out about the Ohio Guard and the Ohio (National) Guard Scholarship, and it was a no-brainer for me. I would be able to serve and attend college at the same time.”

Forro, then, earned a rugby scholarship at Notre Dame College, helping him pay in-full for a private college education, and he found that his military training helped him excel in that environment.

“My Soldier skills transfer to the rugby field and as a co-captain on the Notre Dame College rugby team,” Forro said. “Most of the Army values — if not all — apply to rugby. (The values) allow me to realize that I need to not only be a solid, coachable player, but also an ambassador to the sport and my team. Just as I represent the Ohio Guard on the Army team, I need to make sure I’m doing the right thing because people are always watching. Plus, it keeps me in check; I’m able to look myself in the mirror at night and say that I represented well and to the best of my ability.”

Forro is known for pushing his abilities to the limits.

“He’s tough as nails,” said Jonathan McDonald, a teammate of Forro’s at NDC.

Forro played through a high ankle sprain Sept. 24 in then-10th-ranked NDC’s 31-26 win over then ninth-ranked Army, perhaps NDC’s best-ever victory in rugby 15s, and also gave Forro bragging rights as he and his teammates beat his service’s collegiate team.

Athletes typically do not play through high ankle sprains because it can be extremely painful and playing through the injury can potentially set back recovery. However, Forro said he knew his team needed him to get the win, and he felt he needed to sacrifice himself for the team.

It’s part of Forro’s mantra — to push hard through adversity.

“Be relentless in whatever you want,” Forro said. “There are going to be sacrifices, but results come if you work hard.”

Forro’s dedication to work is recognized by his head coach and teammates.

“He is probably one of the hardest working players I have ever coached,” said NDC head coach Jason Fox, “and I have many hard working student-athletes on this team.

“Zack has the respect from all, due to this work ethic and level head, on and off the field. We have missed his leadership this season very much, as he (was) in Puerto Rico since after the Army game.”

Forro gives credit to the development of his attitude toward hard work and perseverance for his inclusion in the dominant U.S. All-Army Rugby 7s Team, which almost perennially wins the Armed Forces Rugby Sevens Championship Tournament, including both years Forro has played in the tournament, in 2015 and 2017.

U.S. Army 7s is “a very professional environment,” Forro said, “and I was blown away by the amount of things that I was able to learn from players and coaches, so I fell in love right away with the U.S. Army team and its culture.

“Rank and where you’re from don’t matter on the All-Army team,” he said. “We don’t refer to people by their rank. Everybody’s a brother out there; it becomes literally one team and one family. There are a lot of great leaders. We had a lieutenant colonel, who is now a colonel, who is playing for us still, Nate Conkey. The amount of knowledge that those leaders have, in and out of the Army and in life in general, is great. The culture that the team creates allows a young guy like me to absorb those life lessons on and off the field.”

Forro said it’s an absolute honor to represent the Ohio National Guard, his unit and his chain of command.

“The opportunity is there for Guard members to play for their all-branch team, but it’s a little more difficult to be put on orders,” said Forro, who made the All-Armed Forces Team. “It’s important to make sure the all-Army sports information gets out to Soldiers.”

Forro first played for U.S. Army 7s in 2015, and he’s played well enough for Army and NDC to earn an invite to train with the U.S. Olympic Men’s Rugby Team, which also travels the world as an International Rugby Board 7s participant. Forro traveled to Chula Vista, California, in early September and is now being evaluated as a potential member of the U.S. team. If he’s invited to join, Forro said he plans to get into the Army World Class Athlete Program, which has a primary mission to support nationally and internationally ranked Soldiers in participating on the U.S. Olympic team. The program is headquartered at Fort Carson, Colorado.

“Your active duty station is the Olympic Training Center for three years,” Forro explained, “then, following the Olympics, you do one year with your regular active-duty station.”

Forro said his goal is to represent his country in the sport he loves. Many people who know him believe he can do nearly anything he sets his mind to.

“I am very proud of Zack’s accomplishments and well-deserved attention from national selectors,” Fox said. “He will go on to do great things both on the rugby field and in life.”

Certainly, he represented his country and did great things as a U.S. Soldier performing humanitarian missions in the Caribbean.

“I was very excited to do it because I (had the opportunity to) go and help people who have nothing,” Forro said.

His latest deployment may once again push his civilian goals back a bit, but Forro said he understands that is part of the commitment of being a Citizen-Soldier.

“I may have to extend college for one more year (because of this hurricane relief effort), but, honestly I’m pretty happy,” he said, adding that he can look himself in the mirror “at night and say that ‘I represented well and to the best of my ability.’”

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