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Joe Greenspan’s military service creates a unique situation for Minnesota United

Greenspan is a 2014 graduate of the Naval Academy but was granted a service exemption to play soccer last season.

MLS: Colorado Rapids at Seattle Sounders FC Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota United acquired center back Joe Greenspan from the Colorado Rapids this week in exchange for a third-round pick in the MLS SuperDraft. Greenspan is in his second year in Major League Soccer after playing college soccer for the Navy Midshipmen for four years.

Because Greenspan is a graduate of the Naval Academy, his status as a naval officer creates a unique situation that could affect his playing time with the team. A potential conflict related to an incoming President and Greenspan’s service exemption could have been one reason for the trade.

Greenspan delayed his soccer career while serving one year on active duty after earning his commission in 2014. Graduates are expected to serve at least five years on active duty in exchange for their education. Exceptions to this requirement are available but rare. Even two-time Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach served two years on active duty after graduating from the Naval Academy in 1964.

Exemptions to the five-year requirement are approved by the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Manpower and Reserve Affairs (ASD (M&RA)). Greenspan was allowed an exemption before the 2015 season and is currently serving in a reserve unit. The current ASD (M&RA) is Todd A. Welier, who serves under Defense Secretary Ashton Carter in the Obama Administration.

However, the President’s cabinet is set for a shake-up with the impending inauguration of Donald Trump, who plans to nominate retired United States Marine Corps General James Mattis for Secretary of Defense. Greenspan, as an officer, serves at the will of Congress and the President. If either Mattis or Trump wish to rescind Greenspan’s exception, he can do so.

The Department of Defense made it easier for athletes from the military academies to go pro after graduation following a memo released in September 2015, but because this policy is from the executive branch, it is subject to change at the will of the Secretary of Defense or the President.

Exemptions are granted based on the service member’s ability to represent the military outside of active duty in either public relations or recruitment. Because Greenspan has the platform of a professional athlete, he is able to represent the Navy favorably in the public light. Although many kids want to be professional athletes when they grow up, he could inspire others to take up a career of service instead.

Reservists are required to attend 16 hours of training per month and one two-week advanced training course per year. Greenspan’s relocation to Minnesota could also mean a change in his duties. Although Greenspan’s demands as a soccer player could interfere with his training schedule, hours are easily made up before or after the fact. Typically, active duty Naval officers serve two to four years on “ship’s duty” and then take a desk job for an equal time period before heading back to the water.

Greenspan could have some say in his reserve duties and location following the trade from Colorado, but his exemption is left up to the Department of Defense and the President. Greenspan began 2016 on active duty with the Navy, serving aboard a destroyer in San Diego. When he was signed by Colorado in June 2015, he was assigned to a recruiting station in the Denver area.

It is not unusual for officers to travel for reserve training every month. Greenspan could serve in his previous unit or transfer to one in Minnesota. Fort Snelling is home to a Navy Recruiting Command district that covers seven states, which means that Greenspan could find a welcome home as an officer there.

The Uniformed Services and Reemployment Rights Act protects Greenspan from any discrimination by MLS or Minnesota United for his military duty. Just because he misses practice to attend training does not mean he will automatically miss additional playing time.

To Greenspan and those on the team his service is probably “no big deal.” However, his potential to be away from the club as a Naval officer is just another factor for head coach Adrian Heath to consider as he builds the roster.

Brad Omland is a contributing writer for E Pluribus Loonum. He currently serves as Paralegal Specialist in the US Army Reserves. Follow him on Twitter for Minnesota sports updates and commentary: @bradradio.