When the 10th Annual Las Vegas Lacrosse Tournament opens in Sin City on September 21, at least one team will be playing for something more than a few laughs and as many beers.
It's Team Jesse, named after Staff Sergeant Jesse Williams, a decorated infantryman who died in Iraq last April and formed to raise money for the Amaya Elizabeth Williams Educational Fund.
This is a story of patriotism, friendship, honor and loyalty. It's Kevin's story. And Jesse's. But it's all about a little girl named Amaya.
TEAM JESSE MISSION: AMAYA
By Nelson Coffin
Unlike most of us outraged by the mayhem on The Sept. 11, Kevin Mincio did something about it. Just over five months after both towers of the World Trade Center collapsed, the former UConn goalie traded in his briefcase for an M-16. Goodbye, Brooks Brothers. Hello, camouflage fatigues, combat boots and dog tags. Mincio went from being a vice president at Goldman Sachs to living the life of a grunt - that's 11 Bravo in U.S. Army parlance, the infantry to everybody else.
"There's a tradition of the military in my family," said Mincio. "My grandfather, Anthony, served in World War II." Joining the military was always something Kevin thought he might do, although the timing was never quite right. "I considered being a soldier multiple times. I considered West Point after High School and Air force OTS after college," he said. "9/11 was the catalyst. The desire was always there, but I don't think it would have happened without that."
Kevin Mincio (center) with Jesse Williams (left) and Steve Camposan
Typically, enlisted combat infantrymen are at the rock bottom of the Army food chain, which is exactly where the Holbrook, Long Island native wanted to be. The Army's enlisted ranks are not brimming with 30 year old college-educated financial executives from Manhattan. Kevin's maturity and leadership skills would help him at Infantry school at Ft. Benning, Georgia where even though he was a considerably older than most, he was the "soldier of the cycle," something akin to being his basic training company's MVP.
Kevin was stationed at Ft. Lewis in Washington State. That's where he met Jesse Williams, a young infantryman from Santa Rosa, California who also joined the army after 9/11. "Jesse had an incredible sense of humor and everyone knew him for that." said Mincio, who played goalie at Sachem High on Long Island. "He motivated the entire battalion with his constant smile and positive outlook. You never saw him in a bad mood, no matter what."
Jesse and Kevin
The two were deployed to Iraq together in the Quick Reaction Force, deployed to Mozul, Baghdad and other hotspots. Both Kevin and Jesse tried out for the scout platoon and both made the elite unit. As a result the two spent countless hours together on reconnaissance missions, often alone, as scout platoons operate in smaller, stealthier numbers. The two men formed a bond that would easily outlast their tour of duty. Williams was in Mincio's wedding, "representing the Army," as Mincio put it. Similarly, he was a groomsman in Williams' wedding to his hometown sweetheart, Sonya.
Jesse L. Williams 1981 - 2007
"The trust and camaraderie between us was special," said Mincio "Originally, Jesse asked me to be his mentor on physical fitness, finance, nutrition, etc. We quickly became friends because we both felt trust was the cornerstone of friendship and brotherhood. We called each other 'Top 5,' because we both feel you only meet 5 people in your life that you do anything for. We also both had a strong sense of family." When Williams, awarded a Purple Heart during his first tour of duty, re-enlisted, he received orders to return to Iraq. He asked Mincio to take care of his financial matters and his family, which now included his cherished infant daughter, Amaya, if he did not return from his second Iraq tour.
Their friendship did not die when Williams did. On April 8, 2007, while conducting combat operations in Baqubah, Iraq, sniper fire took Jesse from Sonya, their 1-year-old daughter, Amaya and the rest of his family. The whole community of Santa Rosa grieved. Only a month earlier Jesse had saved two soldiers who were trapped inside a burning vehicle after an improvised explosive device (IED) attack. He has been nominated for the Bronze Star.
Kevin, though devastated by the loss of his best friend, was determined to help the Williams' and keep his promise. He knew there would be certain financial obstacles for Sonya, as she raised Amaya without Jesse's help, like paying for Amaya's education. Kevin has taken up that cause. He's been joined by many of his friends and even some friends of friends in an effort to raise money for Amaya's education fund. That's how Team Jesse was formed.
Mincio's UConn lacrosse pal Matt Corry and his brother Mike saw how important it was to Kevin and jumped in full-square behind the effort to help Sonya and Amaya. To that end, they've signed up 25 guys to play for Team Jesse, including some pro players like Nate Watkins and Tim Booth from the San Francisco Dragons and Adam Hughes from the Chicago Machine. Each will pay their own freight - room, board, transportation - to the 10th anniversary Las Vegas tournament in hopes of drawing attention and raising money for Amaya's fund. "We hope to raise 25 or 30 thousand bucks," Matt Corry said.
So far, they've done a pretty good job. Help has come from many sources. Wimmer Solutions of Seattle is kicking in $1,000 for each Team Jesse victory. The company's owner Matt Sauri is playing with Team Jesse along with a bunch of his employees. Mark Campbell, one of Kevin's UConn teammates and his company JohnRa Marketing in Boston donated the uniforms. Matt's former Norwalk High School lax teammate, Kevin Auwarter designed the team logo.
Numerous friends, family members, business associates and former teammates have donated money to Amaya's fund. Matt Pappas, a former Georgetown lax teammate of Mike Corry, got his company, Brandywine Developers in Avalon NJ involved. Bob King and his company King Industries in Norwalk jumped in. Bob's cousin, Keith McMahon, plays on Team Jesse and was a teammate of the Corrys at Norwalk High School years ago. Adam Hughes and the Chicago Machine are donating gear for auction to raise money for Amaya. Everything helps and all is appreciated. "Some guys are just throwing in $100. It doesn't matter how much." Matt Corry says, "If somebody wants to send $25, that's great."
Wanna Help? Make any size donation to the Amaya Elizabeth Williams Education Fund. Here's how.
Make check payable to:
Wachovia Securities-Amaya Williams UGMA
Mail check to:
250 Park Avenue, 7th Floor
New York, NY 10177