FORT CARSON, Colo. -- In the heat and blowing sand of Iraq, U.S. Army 1st Lt. Justin Bokmeyer dusted off his rusty lacrosse skills by thumping shots against a concrete wall that surrounded the base.
Packing up a box of personal items he's shipping to Afghanistan in advance of his yearlong deployment, 1st Lt. Adam Fullerton made sure to include his lacrosse stick.
The former co-captains at West Point reunited briefly with the Denver Outlaws of Major League Lacrosse this spring.
Bokmeyer had just finished his tour of duty, eager to return to his playing days. Fullerton will soon ship out, antsy to embark on his deployment.
The buddies have relied on each other for advice and support as they balance military life with burgeoning lacrosse careers.
"We know what exactly the other one is going through," said Fullerton, 26, of Liverpool, N.Y.
Bokmeyer, of San Diego, found out Monday he made the Outlaws as a practice squad member, exhaling deeply over the phone after hearing the news. Possibly later this summer, after honing his game even more, he might just make the game day roster.
All that time bouncing shots off a 10-foot high gray wall in the blistering sun, beating make-believe goalies, paid off.
"Justin's getting the kinks out a little bit, but he's looking pretty good," said Outlaws general manager Brian Reese, whose team opens the season Saturday at Invesco Field against the Hamilton Nationals.
Back stateside only a few weeks, Bokmeyer is trying to settle into a routine at Fort Carson, about a 75-minute drive south of Denver. He's in charge of making sure that roughly $15 million worth of property returning from Iraq gets fixed and ready for future missions.
A laborious assignment, indeed.
He always keeps his lacrosse stick in the back seat of his SUV, just in case he can squeeze in a couple of throws in his spare time.
Once a standout attacker for the Black Knights, Bokmeyer, 26, hasn't played competitively in about three years. There was an opportunity to play for San Francisco, a team that drafted him in 2009, but the squad folded before the season and that was that.
Since then, he got married (his wife, Lauren, was a former lacrosse player at Bryant University in Rhode Island), returned to West Point to serve as a graduate assistant for the lacrosse team, attended field artillery school and was deployed to Iraq.
He's not sure how long he'll play for the Outlaws, either. A season perhaps. Beyond that remains up in the air -- Bokmeyer just learned he's been picked for Special Forces Assessment and Selection (SFAS), the first step in becoming a member of the Green Berets. He leaves for Fort Bragg, N.C., this fall.
Fullerton, a backup goalie for the Outlaws, made the squad again this spring and will suit up with the team for as long as he's around. Once his unit deploys, Fullerton will go on the nonlacrosse/military inactive list, which provides a way for the club to protect his rights.
Within a few weeks, it's off to Afghanistan, where Fullerton will help plan and integrate several different types of weapon systems into operations.
There's no lamenting the fact he has to suspend his rising lacrosse career. He's been looking forward to deployment for quite some time. His twin brother, Patrick, has already been over to Iraq and filled his head with stories.
Bokmeyer has, too.
Fullerton, who joined the Army in the wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, is eager to finally join the fight.
"I feel like I haven't done anything about it yet, so it's about time," Fullerton said. "This is the path we chose. Lacrosse isn't our No. 1 priority. It's my No. 1 hobby."
Back from war, Bokmeyer gets to resume his playing career, something he envisioned so often in the roasting Iraqi desert, drawing curious stares from passing soldiers who had never seen a lacrosse stick.
Bokmeyer was fueled by an email from Fullerton urging him to keep at it and stay in touch with the Outlaws, who ended up selecting him in the 10th round of the 2010 supplemental draft.
"I had a lot of self-doubt, wondering if I could play in this league," said Bokmeyer, a platoon leader while in the Middle East, leading combat patrols and helping train Iraqi Army personnel for the day the Americans leave.
Fullerton never had a doubt about Bokmeyer's ability, especially after facing him each day in practice at West Point.
"I told him, 'Just because we didn't play at Syracuse doesn't mean we couldn't play with these guys,"' said Fullerton, a member of Team USA last summer when the squad won gold at the world championships in England. "Justin was our best offensive player on our team at Army. Teams always put their best defender on Justin.
"That best defender is now in the league and Justin played well against them in the past. I tried to instill a little confidence in him."
Fullerton's also teaching Bokmeyer how to balance the rigors of the Army with lacrosse, offering pointers he's picked up over the years.
Chief among them, make sure the bosses are always in the loop.
For two seasons, Fullerton made the trip from Fort Carson to Denver for practices and contests. He would skip road games when he didn't think it was appropriate to ask his superiors for permission to leave the unit.
"The Army is our job, our No. 1 priority," said Fullerton, who was originally drafted by Rochester with the 28th overall pick in 2008 after a standout career at Army in which he was one of the top goalies in the country. "As soon as you start diverting away from that and your job performance starts slipping, you lose credibility. You've got to show you're a good soldier."
His days until departing dwindling, Fullerton has been leaning on Bokmeyer for moral support and advice: Like what comfort items to take to Afghanistan. A PlayStation game unit was a must, Bokmeyer explained, along with a stick -- the short version, not his oversized goalie one -- and a half-dozen lacrosse balls.
Fullerton's not that worried about losing his touch as a goalie. Sure, he'll be away from net for a year, but, unlike Bokmeyer, he can work on his stick handling with another lacrosse-playing buddy who's also in his unit.
Or maybe even chuck shots off a wall like Bokmeyer did.
It certainly kept Bokmeyer sharp.
Pat Graham can be reached at http://twitter.com/pgraham34