Story by Sgt. 1st Class Mark Bell
81st Regional Support Command
ORLANDO, Fla. – Nails, hair and boys.
It seemed like typical girl talk for nearly a dozen teenagers attending a weekend workshop with their parents during an Army Reserve Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program held Aug. 7- 9 here.
But like most events sponsored by the 81st Regional Support Command, nothing ever seems typical, and this weekend was no exception.
More than 75 sons and daughters of Soldiers who recently returned from combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan were signed up for the child care program designed to entertain the Army Reserve youth as their parents were busy learning how to reintegrate back into their families and communities after a deployment overseas.
For one young girl, the workshop agenda was a surprise to her and her friends.
“I thought I was just coming here for a meeting,” said 11-year-old Samantha Smith, from Lake City, Fla. “I never knew this was going to be so much fun for an Army meeting.”
As Smith and her friend, Brittany Hobby, performed sporadic cheerleading routines in the hallways and spoke coded conservations only young girls could grasp, one could only assume a daytime slumber party was the logical answer.
Instead, it was the appearance of three Orlando Magic Dancers, one of whom was newly crowned Miss Florida USA, that made teenage boys blush and girls shake with excitement during their unannounced visit.
As the older boys were gathered around an air hockey table battling to be the best of a white plastic puck, the arrival of Erin Gomersall and Kelly Rose Resciniti in their Orlando Magic dance uniforms ended any hopes of concentration.
The sound of a puck bouncing off the rails and slowly coming to a halt and the faint hum of air rushing through the hockey table was a sure sign the five youth were definitely caught off guard.
“So who’s winning here,” asked Megan Clementi, the current Miss Florida USA and captain of the Magic Dancers. “Come on; let’s see who’s going to win.”
The game abruptly ended and their focus shifted to the newest air hockey fans.
Like a deer staring into the headlights of oncoming traffic, the visible disbelief took several minutes to disappear as the dancers attempted to make new friends from a younger generation.
One older boy quickly turned around and ran his fingers through his hair and straightened up his shirt before turning back around with a large grin. Behind the dancers, several other boys could be seen texting on their cell phones – admitting later they were bragging to their friends back home about their new girlfriends.
“I was surprised they spent their time to come see us here,” said 11-year old Hobby, who aspires to someday be a University of Florida cheerleader. “I really liked them a lot. They were very spiritual and sweet. It makes me want to be a cheerleader even more.”
Within minutes, word spread throughout the hallway and other rooms that the dancers were there to see the younger participants of the post-deployment workshop.
Leaning up against a sliding door, several girls focused through the glass using their hands to get a glimpse of National Basketball Association professional dancers. As the door opened, the boys were quickly pushed aside and the mob-like atmosphere brought huge smiles to the energetic dancers.
“Wow, are you really a cheerleader,” asked one six-year-old girl.
“Close, but we are the Orlando Magic Dancers, not cheerleaders,” Gomersall said smiling as she gave the girl a hug.
“I can’t believe this,” another girl said over and over. “I have to go tell my mom and dad. Can I go get my mom? She won’t ever believe me.”
The boys slowly returned to their air hockey game as the dancers and the newest fans of the Orlando Magic slowly made their way to the hallway.
Gomersall, a four-year veteran of the Magic Dancers, said taking time on a Saturday morning to visit with Soldiers and families is an honor as a member of the community and an Orlando Magic Dancer.
“I think it’s important to connect with the military because they do so much for us whether we are at war or not,” she said. “We just want to continue our support for the military family. They deserve it, and sometimes I don’t even think they even realize how important they are in our communities.”
Answering a barrage of questions ranging from caring for their nails to being a professional dancer, the girls and the dancers fell into a noticeable routine like they were reunited friends.
As the girls asked permission to touch Clementi’s pageant sash, the noticeable wide-eye reaction meant a little more to Clementi than the average appearance, and said she hopes the boys and girls had fun and were able to take away a little more than just a visit from professional basketball dancers.
“I don’t think they get to see NBA dancers or Miss Florida USA,” she said. “I hope they remember us as being positive role models and just really nice girls. One day, they can be a Magic Dancer or be Miss Florida USA.”
As two girls were showing off their latest cheerleading routines, others were shaking the bluish metallic pom pons.
A young girl ran her fingers through Resciniti’s hair as she turned to her friend and giggled like she just had a brush with a movie star.
Resciniti, a veteran of Armed Forces Entertainment overseas tours, said she never forgets about the Soldiers and families that sacrifice so much during deployments while on and off the NBA court.
“Although we are over here entertaining and in the spotlight, we know what’s going on over there too, and we are very thankful and appreciative of what the troops and their families go through during this difficult time,” she said.
As Soldiers and families are separated for long periods of time during scheduled deployments, Resciniti said it’s just as important to take care of family members left behind.
“The girls here today are doing the same things we did while growing up,” she said. “They are trying to be regular girls doing things like dancing and getting involved in sports, and they did it without their dad or mother here. I can’t imagine how tough it could be during that time.”
With the last of the promotional Orlando Magic Dancer posters signed, Clementi, Gomersall and Resciniti quietly left the area to visit more heroes of the day– the Soldiers and spouses of the children.
As Hobby and Smith unsuccessfully begged to keep the three dancers around for a few more minutes, Gomersall reassured the girls that they would be visiting another Yellow Ribbon workshop in the near future.
“We have to come back again,” Smith told Hobby. “This is just too cool. Our friends are never going to believe us.”
After it was all done, Smith said making new friends was the best thing about the whole event – minus the early Saturday morning surprise. “Hopefully I will see them again and make more friends the next time,” she said.
As the new friends departed, Clementi said the 90-minute meeting was absolutely amazing and hopes the children truly understand how much Americans respect and honor their parents.
“Soldiers are overseas every single day fighting for our country,” she said. “I don’t think they really know how much we appreciate them.”
Clementi said they wanted to come here to just say thank you as ambassadors of the Orlando Magic organization and the state of Florida.
“It’s something little, but I think it makes a big difference,” she said.