Army Col. Christopher Essig thought he had seen tough, but that was before he met a troop of adolescent girls wearing skirts and armed with hockey sticks.
This week, nine field hockey teams from several Arlington and Fairfax County high schools invaded the playing field at Fort Myer, where Essig is garrison commander, in search of a safe haven from the terrifying sniper attacks. All over the region, outdoor school activities, particularly athletics, were halted, and sports teams scrambled to reschedule games at secure places.
With the attacks over, yesterday was the last day for games at Fort Myer. But parents, players and military officials agreed that the partnership between the base and high school sports has created a bond that will endure.
"These young women seem to be a little tougher than infantrymen," joked Essig, as he stood on the sidelines yesterday watching Arlington's Wakefield Warriors and Washington-Lee Generals battle it out.
He clutched a sack of school mementos -- a hat, a chip clip -- gifts he received from the girls and Arlington school officials in appreciation for the fort's hospitality.
"This was very important to do. We wanted to make life as normal as possible for the kids and complete the season," said Arlington Superintendent Robert G. Smith, who called Essig to ask for help after the shootings began. "This has cemented an already good relationship."
In their meticulous planning, school and military personnel ensured that the schedule for the matches -- several of which had been rescheduled from the previous week -- would be as secret as classified information.
"You finally found out where we were -- surprise!" said Bethany Fox, who plays for the Warriors. And her teammate, Caitlin Felker, quickly chimed in, "We were told, 'Don't tell the press. Lie!' " And to support Essig's observation of their toughness, both bore bandages on their faces. To show the curious colonel how they keep their shins unscathed, the girls pulled down their long socks and showed off their shin guards.
For the girls, the games on the Army post were an adventure.
"It was fun. It was different," Fox said. Carrie Tucker, another Warrior, said what she liked best was the pilots waving as the helicopters flew over the field.
Parents, too, said they were happy, and relieved, to see their daughters playing at the post. Jan Evans, whose daughter Kate, 17, plays for Wakefield, said that when the shootings began, she immediately called Smith and recommended the base as an alternate game site.
If they hadn't played, Evans said Kate "would have been crushed. It would have been the end of the season, and she's a senior."
Beth Prange, mother of Sharon, a senior at Washington-Lee, said her daughter would have felt the same way. "This is going to be her last year to get to play with her teammates," she said. And last year, Sharon didn't finish the season, Prange said, because of the terrorist attacks. "I didn't want her to go through that again."
School Board member Frank K. Wilson said Arlington parents were lucky, too, because unlike other districts where parents had to drive 50 miles to see the rescheduled games, Fort Myer is nearby.
"This demonstrates that the community of Arlington and the military can work together," he said. "It couldn't have worked out any better."
Officials said they believe it's the first time high school teams have used the fort's field to play their matches. But that wasn't the only unusual occurrence yesterday. In a sport with few tie games, the Wakefield Warriors and the Washington-Lee Generals match ended in a draw: 1-1.