VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. --
At just the age of five, a boy was registered to play the game he would one day love; however, he hated the game until the age of 12. Although his love for the game didn’t come quickly, he kept playing due to the persistence and encouragement from his father.
Fast forward to spring 2018, the same boy is not only experienced with the semi-pro league, he’s also “in it to win it” while playing for the U.S. Air Force Soccer Team.
When Tech. Sgt. Jose Zepeda, 148th Space Operations Squadron satellite systems operator, joined the military in 2008 and began his career, he didn’t know he would be playing for the U.S. Air Force soccer team.
“Before I joined the military, I played reserves for Cruz Azul in Mexico for one year,” said Zepeda. “I was captain of the team.”
Once joining the Air Force at the age of 18, he hung up his cleats and jersey and put his dream of going pro to bed.
Eight years later, Zepeda heard of an opportunity to play his favorite sport while representing the Air Force. He put in an application for the team, but never heard back. However, last spring Zepeda’s leadership encouraged him to put in another application.
“When the opportunity for Zepeda to be part of the Air Force team came up, it was my job to encourage him to apply again, even if he was not successful the first time,” said Chief Master Sgt. Manuel Garavito 148th SOPS squadron superintendent.
Selected from 160 applicants, Zepeda was chosen along with 38 other soccer stars to attend the official team tryouts held in Colorado Springs in May 2018.
“His passion and love for soccer is something that you will know about him after just talking to him for a couple of minutes,” said Garavito.
Out of the 39 who were asked to come to the tryouts, only 18 were selected for the team. Zepeda not only represented Vandenberg while making the team, but also the Air National Guard, as he was the only non-active Airman.
“My chief was the reason I applied,” said Zepeda. “He knew I applied a few years ago and never heard back, but he encouraged me to try again.”
Zepeda had a disadvantage while training. Since he was the only member trying out from Vandenberg, he trained alone. However, his supervision was supportive while he worked toward his goal and offered to help in any way they could.
“This opportunity wouldn’t have been possible without the support of my leadership,” said Zepeda.
Zepeda then traveled with his new teammates and coaching staff to North Carolina for the Armed Forces tournament, June 5, 2018. Twenty-seven days filled with traveling, training and a competitive soccer tournament.
During the Armed Forces tournament, the U.S. Air Force soccer team held their own and played to their strengths to come out on top. However, there were moments when the team was falling behind, but their coaches never gave up.
“Our coaches never doubted us,” said Zepeda. “Even while we were down at halftime in the final game, our coaches had so much faith and support in us -- we were able to make a comeback and win the final game in the tournament, five to two, the Air Force soccer team took home the gold.”
The U.S. Air Force soccer team is chosen biannually and only plays in the week-long Armed Forces tournament. The in-between year an all-star team is compiled from all service branches to compete in the world champion tournament. Zepeda plans on trying out for the all-star team for a chance to play at the world champion tournament next summer.
“I thought my dream was over,” said Zepeda. “But then this opportunity came along, and not only was I able to play on the Air Force soccer team, I was also able to win the gold alongside my teammates and fellow Airmen.”