Daily life is full of stressors: How am I going to pay my bills? Will my kids go to college? What draw position am I going to get for the Finale? However, thanks to the brave men and women in uniform, the extent of our worry is seldom life or death. We don’t have to watch over our shoulder for mortar shells raining down, hide our families from rouge militants, or plan grocery trips around enemy fire. This is because we have soldiers who protect our freedoms and ensure the safety of this beautiful country and the people who live in it. And we are lucky to have some of these selfless individuals in our roping community who, whether deployed or at home, uphold their love of the sport.
Mike White from Livermore, Calif., has been roping since he was a young boy. Like many rural kids, he was part of junior rodeo associations and eventually went on to college rodeo at West Hills College in Coalinga, Calif., and then at Oklahoma Panhandle State University. After graduation, he joined the Marine Corps. When asked why he decided to join, his answer was simple: “I just felt obligated to go.”
White has been serving ever since, and 13 years of active duty have taken him all over the world, from Afghanistan to Djibouti to Italy. Whatever country he’s in, however, he’s remained true to his cowboy roots.
For the first four years of his service, he was stationed in California and was able to rope with an old college roommate. Roping in Afghanistan, however, proved to be a little more difficult. While stationed in the mountains there, he bought a horse for $500 in order to haul machine guns and ammunition.
“I lost money on him, like anybody else does,” says White. “I sold him for $300 and he didn’t make a very good rope horse.”
With a little cowboy ingenuity, White was able to use the horse for what he needed, and he even shod him. He says, “I took some rebar and put some shoes on him because the ground was so rocky.”
As of now, White is living is San Clemente, Calif., with his wife Monica, his 2-year-old son Prescott, and a little girl on the way. The family is excited to be attending the World Series Finale for the first time. Though he’s a military man first and foremost, and ready to go overseas when called, White has never lost his passion for roping, and this soldier is excited to try his hand in Vegas.
Like Father, Like Son
Many young men want to follow in their father’s footsteps, as was the case for Joseph Sanchez, whose father, Joey Sanchez, is a decorated war hero. In 1969, when Joey was 18, he volunteered for the Army. Six months later he was sent to Vietnam. He worked in a small unit in the first cavalry division, and on December 4, 1969, while trying to clear a bunker, he was shot five times by a Vietnamese officer, from just three feet away.
One bullet went in his knee, traveled down and blew his heel off; another bullet went through his wrist, traveled through his arm, and destroyed his right elbow; and another went through his leg. As he was being pulled out of the jungle into the helicopter, he was shot twice in the neck. He spent a year in a hospital bed. During that time, there was no such thing as rehab, but there were activities injured soldiers could do to help regain muscle strength. One offered activity was team roping. Joey started roping with his friends in Hollister, Calif., and grew to love the sport, and continues to compete to this day.
Learning from his father, Joseph took an interest in team roping when he was 15.
“It was a way to do something with my dad,” he explained.
It was only natural, then, for Joseph to become a Ranger like his father. Adding, “I felt that it was my duty to do the same thing that he did.”
Joseph was sent all over the world—Afghanistan, Colombia, and Iraq—and his father, knowing his son’s love for roping, sent him a roping dummy to use overseas.
When Joseph came home, he went back into the Army to get re-classed into intelligence, then worked four years in Southeast Asia. Today, he works for the Federal Investigative Services in California.
Joseph Sanchez has some pretty good reasons for returning to and staying in the States.
“I miss being overseas every day,” he says, “but I have three kids, my oldest son is 13, and I want to see him grow up. If there was a war going on, I would be there, no question, but for right now, they are my priority.”
The father-son team of Joey and Joseph Sanchez will be roping together in Las Vegas at the Finale, and their relationship both in and out of the arena is something they cherish. Joseph’s 5-year-old son, Quatro, is learning how to swing a rope, following in his dad’s footsteps, just as his father did before him.
Keeping it Classified
Danny Stewart, from Birmingham, Ala., though a long-time player in the military, is a little bit newer to the team roping game. He joined the United States Air Force in 1982, after going through ROTC in college. He explains, “I went in because I had planned on being a pilot, and I’m from a long family history of military, so once I was there, I knew that was it for me.”
While in the Air Force, Stewart worked on many classified missions—ones he still cannot discuss to this day. He remembers one time, “flying into the United States on a C-130 in a classified area, and they never said where we were going. We flew in, had to take the C-130 apart, and then had to wait on someone to come get us.”
It was only after serving 22 years in the Air Force and retiring in Alabama that he decided to learn how to swing a rope. He says, “I was showing and trail riding and I happened to meet someone at the feed store when I was asking a question about horses, and he said, ‘Come on out to our place one night and watch what we do, we team rope,’ and that was how I got started.”
Stewart quickly fell in the love with the sport and rodeo, and soon after started competing in the Professional Armed Forces Rodeo Association (PAFRA), for men and women who have served, or are currently serving, and who share a passion for the western lifestyle.
Despite his own military accomplishments and the achievement of competing in a rodeo association, nothing makes Stewart more proud than his own son, who is currently active in the Air Force.
“My son is in a forward operating zone, which puts him in more danger than I was,” explains Stewart. “I always worry about my son, like any parents, but we do what we do because we love our country.”
To Protect and Serve
If there is ever a moment when you begin to take your freedom and prosperity for granted, remember, it’s husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers who are doing the work to keep the people of this country safe. It’s the stories you don’t always hear about that remind us we are always being protected.
Joseph Sanchez humbly says, “It’s about opportunity. There are guys that serve for 20 years and never see combat, or airmen who still help the country without ever being in danger. There are a lot of people who do wonderful things all over that just go unseen, and they deserve just as much credit.”
Far beyond the sport of team roping, it’s humbling to stop and consider what makes this country so special, what makes us bow our heads and thank the Lord that we are here. Power on the nightly news and it’s easy to be overcome with fear and concern, but we are reminded that there are people working day and night to protect our freedoms. It’s why we get to do what we love—some of us for a living, some for sport. Regardless of our own daily circumstances, our selfless service men and women deserve un-ending gratitude. Each of these men alluded to it, but Danny Stewart said it best when he said, “We don’t do it for political ideologies, we don’t do it for the money, and we don’t do it for the government. We do it for our people, our people living on our land, and that is our job.”