Buongiorno! Greetings from Italy!
I never would have guessed that I would end up where I am right now. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined I would be here.
I am currently serving as a Military Intelligence officer in the active-duty section of the United States Army. My first duty station is an airborne infantry unit in Vicenza, Italy.
How did a kid from Harrison City, PA end up here?
I guess I might as well start from the beginning.
Growing up, my dad ingrained in me that the mindset of hard work and dedication is what it took to be successful.
He also put me through physical training that would have me either bleeding or crying by the end of it.
My dad did not know much about soccer, but he always made sure I was one of the biggest and fastest on the pitch.
He also ensured that I had the best coaching and training that I could while growing up.
I have solely my dad to thank for everything I have accomplished on the soccer field.
I played on local travel teams for most of my childhood until I was eight or ten years old. Then, a few friends and I decided to play club soccer.
We played on a team called RAMPAGE that was made up of kids from places like Penn Trafford, Plum, Monroeville and Latrobe.
Thanks to my talent, my vocal ability and leadership qualities, I was named captain. I played on that team for four years and cherish those memories. We were a pretty good team all around.
However, that all changed when we entered the PA West State Cup competition for the first time. We easily progressed through the first round.
The team we drew for the second round? Arsenal Football Club.
This team destroyed us 4-1. They then proceeded to win the state cup for their third time.
I knew I wanted to play for a team like that.
I had made a good impression and the coach contacted me a few weeks later about tryouts. I tried out and made the team.
Arsenal FC was a huge wake up call for me.
I grew up starting for every team I played for. That included my freshman year of high school on varsity as Defensive MVP.
However, Arsenal was an entirely different animal. I was a competitive person and I was pretty good, but the new system of play, coaches, players, and environment really got to me.
I was overwhelmed and just not good enough. I was often benched or got minimal minutes at the end of games.
This was a lot to take in after driving an hour to and from practice five days a week and traveling hours for games over the weekends.
It took a heavy toll on me mentally as a sophomore in high school who succeeded everywhere he went before in soccer.
I was very close to leaving Arsenal and giving up that adventure. However, two people helped me stay.
My dad refused to let me be a quitter. He told me to put my head down and keep fighting for a spot.
Then, there was Coach Mark Taylor. He was the head coach of the older teams at Arsenal. I was able to travel with their team for a few weekend games. He saw a real player in me.
Coach Taylor coached me and mentored me as a center back at the club. I’m pretty sure he talked with my current coaches at the club about my progress as well. I started to play more. A lot more than I had ever before.
I then started the final and helped my team win the state cup. I maintained my starting spot for the rest of my time at Arsenal Football Club.
I wanted to play soccer in college. I had a really good high school soccer career. I was a section champion three times, captained my team both my junior and senior year, broke a few school records, was named one of the all section/WPIAL players, and got to play in the All Star game at Highmark Stadium.
I wouldn’t have been half the player if I didn’t play for Arsenal FC.
I won three state championships with Arsenal. I never experienced such a level of competitiveness as I had at the club.
Arsenal taught me so much about perseverance, overcoming the odds, leadership, and mental fortitude while I was there.
Thank you Coach Taylor for believing in me.
Thank you Coach Brower for challenging me like nobody ever had.
Thank you Coach Ed for bringing a smile to my face during hard times.
Senior year, I was scouted mostly by Division II and III collegiate programs. Arsenal also helped me to focus on my studies. I finished high school with a 3.9 GPA and a solid soccer career.
I had chosen Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania and I was going to play soccer there.
My last game for Arsenal came that spring. It was one of our last tournaments before our final State Cup together.
With five minutes remaining, I tore my ACL in a bad tackle.
Slippery Rock told me I would have to walk on now because of the injury. A lot of people aren’t the same when they return from injuries like mine, so I couldn’t blame them.
Arsenal went on to win the State Cup in the following weeks and gave me a medal.
Tearing my ACL changed my whole mindset for college.
I’ve never not had soccer in my life to fall back on.
I went into college as a Biology major. I became complacent and wasn’t a good student.
I ended up changing majors and decided not to play soccer once I recovered from my injury.
I chose to switch my major to Homeland Security with a minor in Arabic Studies and Leadership. My academic advisor also convinced me to join the ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Course).
When I joined, I had flashbacks to my first year at Arsenal. I was completely out of my comfort zone.
However, the perseverance I learned while with Arsenal helped me to stay in the ROTC and really enjoy it. My soccer background enabled me to stand out as a leader and to experience a lot of success in the program.
After three years in ROTC, I was sent to Cadet Summer Training. I performed well there when graded in my leadership abilities and tactical knowledge.
When you’re a senior in college as a ROTC student you are assessed on a national level. Every cadet in the country gets ranked from an Order of Merit List.
This list is based on a point system from your GPA, Physical Fitness Score, Cadet Summer Training Score, Extracurricular Activities, Military Science Professor’s Leadership Ranking, and several other small activities.
Senior year, I ranked in the Top 10% of cadets in the country, I was a Distinguished Military Student (3.9 GPA), Distinguished Military Graduate, and I helped our program receive the MacArthur Award for being one of the top eight colleges in the country.
Senior year, I ranked in the top 10% of cadets in the country.
This ranking helped me achieve my dream. I was able to pick my number one choice and become a military intelligence officer in the army.
I also received my number one duty station in Vicenza, Italy - hoping I can watch a few live professional games before my departure.
Since graduating college I have attended BOLC (Basic Officer Leadership Course) in Arizona and became airborne certified in Georgia. I jumped out of a plane alone five times!
Most recently, I arrived in Italy where I will now be for three years of my active-duty service to the Army.
I don't think any of this would have been possible if it wasn’t for my experiences at Arsenal Football Club.
My time at the club helped me become a better and stronger human being. It is what assisted me in high school, both academically and on the pitch.
It also gave me experiences I never would have had anywhere else. It helped me as a leader which proved to be priceless in my experience in college and ROTC.
This article is dedicated to all of my teammates, the coaching staff, and my father who helped me to become the person I am today and to achieve my dreams.
Jake Beretta, 2nd Lieutenant
Military Intelligence Officer
Arsenal FC 2012-2016
Currently resides in Vinceza, Italy