MUNGYEONG, South Korea -- The 7,000 service members from 103 nations who marched into the stadium Friday evening for opening ceremonies of the Military World Games here included some who have recently been near conflict with each other.
Russia was there with the Ukraine; Israeli and Palestinian troops sat on the same side of the stadium; and Iran was there for friendly competition with western nations.
The slogan of the games is "Friendship together, peace forever," and the longtime motto of the organization sponsoring the games -- the Conseil du Sport Militaire, or CISM -- has been "Friendship through sports."
CISM President Lt. Col. Abdulhakeem Alshano from Bahrain told the assembled crowd that when their militaries come together to engage in sports, it goes a long way toward realizing the dream of peace.
"There is no better and beautiful message for peace," he said. "This message of peace is being sent all over the world."
PARA-ATHLETE CARRIES U.S. FLAG
Before U.S. athletes marched into the stadium, they were greeted by Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti, commander of U.S. Forces Korea and the United Nations Command. He stressed to athletes the importance of their mission, wished them success, and then walked around shaking hands and posing for selfies with participants.
As the U.S. formation neared the stadium entrance, a large group of costumed Korean performers began chanting "USA! USA!" Navy Lt. William C. Boyd of the U.S. men's golf team said that made him feel proud. "It made me feel like an Olympian," he said.
Army Sgt. Elizabeth Wasil was at the front of Team USA carrying the American flag into the ceremonies. Wasel is a para-athlete and this is the first CISM World Games that include categories for injured warriors.
This year para-athletes will compete in track and field, along with archery. Wasil will compete in shot put, along with the 100-meter and 200-meter dashes. In the past, she has competed against male athletes and beat them in both swimming and in para-track.
"I think it was wonderful that they spoke a lot about equality," Wasil said of the keynote speakers at the opening ceremony.
DYNASTY'S HISTORY DEPICTED
South Korean President Park Geun-hye was at the opening ceremony. Korean co-chairs of the organizing committee, Kim Sangki and Kim Kwanyong, welcomed all to Mungyeong and the province of Gyeongsangbuk-do where CISM competitions will be held in eight different cities spread over the region. They also spoke of the province's history and culture.
Performances followed the opening speeches, and included hundreds of dancers, martial artists and actors, bringing that history to life. One scene depicted Hwrangs, or "flowering knights" of the Silla Dynasty. Mungyeong was part of that dynasty for almost a thousand years, from 59 BC to 935 AD.
"It was definitely great to see their culture," said Army 1st Lt. Ella Ellis, from Fort Sill, Oklahoma. He serves as one of the co-captains of the men's basketball team. "The friendly competition just shows we're working toward the peace," he added.
Another scene of the show depicted the traditional Korean game called Chajeon Nori, sometimes translated as the Juggernaut Battle. It involves teams of men carrying on their shoulders large log frames called dongchae. Atop each dongchae is a commander, who directs his team to maneuver against the other team. The game is won when one team knocks the other dongchae to the ground. The game commemorates a battle fought in 935.
"It was a story of divided nations," said Air Force Capt. Celine Ziobro, of the women's soccer team. She explained that the theme of the entire performance was "We are One." She said performers wore the costumes of "people who worked in the fields, people who are warriors -- all are one, who come together as a nation."
It was a story of going "from conflict to peace," said another soccer player, Army 2nd Lt. Molly McGuigan, of the 86th Combat Support Hospital at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. She saw it as a saga "of military working toward peace."
The opening ceremony was produced by Han Jung-gu, who directed the ceremonies of the 1988 Seoul Olympics. This show was directed by Son Jin-chaek, who had a major role in putting together ceremonies of the 2002 World Cup.
Their show Friday culminated with Korean music during which costumed dancers grabbed service members and pulled them onto the field to join in the finale. The performers taught athletes how to do the "Soldier Dance," with choreography designed by Koreans especially for the games.
Air Force Capt. Jahmal Lawson, the other basketball co-captain, said he enjoyed being pulled out onto the field by performers. He enjoyed the interaction and said he never experienced anything like it before at other games, including the last CISM World Games in Rio de Janeiro.
"I really enjoyed at the very end how they brought everyone together onto the center field and we all got to dance together," said Air Force 2nd Lt. Kelly Stanbaugh, of the women's soccer team. "I think people at first were resistant ... but by the time I looked back, everyone from the stands were on the field. I thought that was a really great way to come harness the theme that we're developing here. It was something I'll remember for a long, long time."
The 2015 CISM World Games will be the largest ever, with 103 member nations competing and another 14 countries sending delegations to observe or enter individual athletes as invitees. Athletes will compete in a total of 24 sports, up from the 20 at the 2011 CISM World Games in Brazil.
This year, the United States has 16 teams competing in sports ranging from soccer to sailing. Track and field athletes begin competing Sunday at the stadium where the opening ceremonies were held. Taekwondo and judo will take place down the street at a field house built for the Korean Armed Forces Athletic Corps, known as KAFAC -- Korea's world-class athletes.
Cycling will take place Wednesday on a circuit through downtown Mungyeong and wrestling will be in a field house downtown. Modern pentathlon will be at the KAFAC complex. Basketball and golf take place an hour away in the city of Andong. Shooting will be in Daegu and Gogyeong. The archery field is in Yecheon. Sailing and skydiving competitions are taking place in the port city of Pohang, about three hours away.