Balancing careers: One reservist's story

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Jeffrey Williams
  • 934th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
When most people think of hockey, Minnesota often comes to mind. If they think of Minnesota, hockey comes to mind. The United States Hockey Hall of Fame is in Eveleth, Minnesota. The U.S. Olympic hockey roster is filled with Minnesotans each year. Herb Brooks, a South St. Paul-native coached the 1980 U.S. Olympic team to a gold medal victory over Finland. His coaching tenure also included stops at the University of Minnesota and a few professional teams. Minnesota even had two NHL hockey teams during the league’s existence. 

For 1st Lt. Brian Gornick, a 4th Air Force public affairs officer on temporary duty with the 934th Airlift Wing, hockey is his life – literally.
“It’s always been my dream to play in the National Hockey League,” Lt. Gornick said. “To play and get paid for something you love is unique in today’s society.”
The lieutenant, a 1998 graduate of St. Paul’s Cretin-Derham Hall High School, leads a double life – Air Force reservist by day and professional hockey player by night. 

As a senior in high school, his team, the Raiders, lost in the section final to Hastings. The next year, while playing for the Air Force Academy team, the Anaheim Mighty Ducks picked him in the ninth round of the 1999 NHL entry draft (258th overall). It looked as if the power forward might achieve that goal, as he was the first Air Force Academy cadet, and the second service academy cadet ever selected in the NHL draft
Lieutenant Gornick spent his four year academic career at the Air Force Academy as a two-sport athlete in baseball and hockey, and received his commission in May 2002.
He spent the next two years as an acquisition officer at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, while still playing hockey, this time as for the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks of the American Hockey League. 

“The two years active duty and playing hockey professionally was tough. Playing hockey professionally is a full time job, so I was working two full time jobs during that time. Now that I’m a reservist, it’s a little easier to handle and it works out best for both, my hockey team and the Air Force,” he said. 

His main duties as a reservist include working recruiting events and talking to people in the community. Now that he is currently on the injured reserve list due to a shoulder injury, it will be a little easier in handling his Air Force role.
“Serving your country is an admirable thing to do,” he said. “At age 18, it’s tough putting something ahead of yourself, but the Air Force has tremendous opportunities, and I take a lot of pride in representing my country.”
Another opportunity that came his way was his selection to the U.S. National Team through the Air Force World Class Athlete program, in which he participated from December 2003 through September 2004. He considers himself lucky to be a member of the 2003 U.S. National Team that won the 2003 Deustchland Cup, in Germany. 

Last summer he was selected to the 2005 U.S. Joint Military Skills Competition Team, which competed against teams from other NATO countries in pistol marksmanship, rifle marksmanship, land obstacle course, water obstacle course and land navigation.
“It was pretty intense,” he said. “We went through an intense training program learning marksmanship from some of the top shooters in the military. They really taught us how to perform under pressure, at an expert level.”
He believes the military skills competition experience will not only help him in his future hockey endeavors, but also as an Air Force officer by providing him with the necessary skills to become a better leader and officer.
“Any time you improve hand-to-eye coordination skills, it helps you. It was a different kind of competition and it was the first time I was ever exposed to international competitors. I will also be able to bring the skills I learned back with me to my unit,” Lt. Gornick said.
He was invited back for more pentathlon training and competition this year until he injured his shoulder. 

“My biggest problem right now is staying healthy. I had a cartilage problem in my wrist last year and a shoulder problem this year, but I haven’t missed a lot of games. Typically guys in my position take longer to develop. They bring you along slow. My goal is still to play in the NHL,” he added.
This summer he will be a free agent, after having spent four seasons playing professionally with the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks, San Diego Gulls, Syracuse Crunch and the Dayton Bombers, all affiliated with NHL teams.
The one thing he knows he has going for him while waiting for the call from another professional team is the same thing he has for life after hockey. 

“My number one commitment is to the Air Force. If called to go overseas, I wouldn’t hesitate. I understand my obligation to the Air Force. It’s been good to me and allowed me to pursue my goals,” Lt. Gornick said.