OSAN AIR BASE, South Korea — At the age of five, Joseph Spracklen attended his first hockey game and from that moment on Joseph's love of the sport became the focal point of his childhood; a decision that would sculpt his youth and the rest of his adult life.
Joe spent his teenage years with "billet" families in Iowa, Minnesota, and even Canada so that he could play under the tutelage of nationally renowned coaches who could fuel his passion for the sport.
"I've always loved the feeling of just getting out there on the ice," he said. "I'm naturally competitive and hockey is one of those sports that invigorated me to be my best."
Eighteen years after he watched his first game, Spracklen was given the opportunity to play for the same team and eventually, his performance on the ice would land him a scholarship with the elite military academy, West Point.
"Prior to the coach talking to me I didn't really know much about [West Point], so it had never even been a consideration for me," Spracklen said. "But after I learned more about the school and visited the campus, I was thrilled to be given the chance to go there."
West Point athletes must meet rigorous academic, military, and physical standards to maintain eligibility to compete in their sport.
The West Point Hockey team is a National Collegiate Athletic Association Division 1 program.
"Hockey and military service go hand-in-hand," he said. "You've got to work as a team to succeed in both."
Spracklen served as a goalie for the West Point Hockey team for four years while earning his undergraduate degree in Computer Science.
In 2010, he was commissioned as an air defense artillery officer and was assigned to Fort Bliss, Texas where he continued to play hockey for a local adult league and coached junior hockey team "El Paso Rhinos" until he deployed to Qatar in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
After his deployment, Spracklen served at Fort Bliss and then Fort Sill, Oklahoma where he was an active member of the local hockey community.
During professional development training, he received orders to South Korea.
"When the movers came to pack out, I almost had them store my gear but I just couldn't bring myself to do it," he said.
And he said he's glad that he made that choice.
One month after arriving to Korea, Spracklen was in Itaewon where he saw a man walking down the street carrying a hockey bag.
"I literally ran him down," Spracklen said. "He got me into contact with a local team and the next week I was on the ice."
Five months later, Spracklen still laces up his skates…as the team's starting goalie.
The team, known as the Scelido "Titans," is part of South Korea's newest semi-professional hockey league headquartered out of Seoul.
Korean sportswriters praised Spracklen for his performance in the league.
Hockey News — Korea described Spracklen's defense as "spotless" and described how Spracklen's goal tending prowess brought the crowd to their feet as he saved a rebound puck from the net in a recent game.
Spracklen's performance on the ice is matched by his performance in the U.S. Army as he will soon transition from serving as a battle captain for the 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade in Korea to training for an assignment in one of the Army's newest branches under Army Cyber Command.
Regardless of where Spracklen's service will take him, there's one thing for certain.
"I'll definitely be looking to get back out on the ice," he said. "It's important to find that balance between work and play in order to perform at your best."
"Hockey has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember," he said. "I'll skate for as long as I can and even after that I'll definitely be active in the hockey community."
Learn more about ice hockey in South Korea by visiting their website at www.koreaicehockey.com.