How do you talk about football when seated on the field are heroes representing several generations and several wars?
How do you talk about football when in the stands are more stars and bars than you would find during lunch hour at the Pentagon?
How do you talk about football when the stadium seats are filled with young men and women only steps away from war?
How do you talk about football when you hear a crack in the voice of a young linebacker from Phenix City as he talks about his late grandfather who fought at the Battle of the Bulge?
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These are glimpses of Friday at Doughboy Stadium on the day the West Point football team came to Fort Benning to play a spring game that turned into a field trip?
For a couple of hours, the team practiced the precision of the triple option. For young players fighting for playing time in the fall, that was time well spent. The team representing the Armor School won 20-14, as if anyone cared.
Most of their time was spent being exposed to values they are taught at the nation’s oldest military academy.
“I expect there were more butterflies today than they’ll have at any game next season,” said Rich Ellerson, the Black Knights head coach since 2008. “Their vision of the Army is based on life at West Point. Today, they received a snapshot of the Big Army.”
The idea for the game came out of a casual conversation between Ellerson and Maj. Gen. Robert Brown, the commander of the Maneuver Center of Excellence and a former basketball star at West Point.
The game gave Brown an excuse to give historic Doughboy Stadium a $1.5 million facelift and gave Army linebacker Colby Miller a chance to play football close to home.
“I’ve had a chance to play in front of people that haven’t seen me play since 2008,” said Miller, a former Smiths Station High School linebacker.
He has learned more about Fort Benning since trading the Chattahoochee River for the Hudson River.
“You hear about Fort Benning all the time,” he said. “I didn’t realize how big it was until I got to West Point. My appreciation grew substantially.”
When he talked about his grandfather, he had to catch his breath. He said his grandfather, who died last year, was the reason he went to West Point.
Five unmarked military buses delivered Miller and his teammates to the National Infantry Museum & Soldier Center Friday morning. When the players hit the sidewalk, they took out their cell phones and snapped pictures of the giant statue outside the impressive museum.
Then they heard the voice of Lora Warren, the chief volunteer at the museum and a six-generation Army brat. With an oversized “Beat Navy” pinned to her jacket, she ordered them to get into formation. They did, too.
“I used my mommy voice,” she said.
From there they marched to the parade grounds where they watched the graduation of two Infantry companies. Then came a pre-game meal of protein and protein with protein for dessert.
After eating, tour guides rushed them through the museum.
“We want to make a connection with soldiers,” said Logan Pearce, a defensive back from Cleveland.
By noon, they were back on the buses for a short ride to the historic stadium. They found a stadium filled with soldiers in their work clothes along with the Army Chief of Staff and the head of TRADOC.
Pat Dye never advanced beyond the rank of 1st lieutenant when he was at Fort Benning but he was also an honored guest. Nearly 50 years ago, the former Auburn University football coach was a star for the Fort Benning Doughboys.
“I played the best football of my life on that field,” he said.
The pre-game ceremony captured the history and the moment. It honored heroes from Korea, Vietnam and Iraq wars, including a recipient of the Medal of Honor, the highest award this country bestows.
Brown was openly moved.
“This was what I dreamed it would be,” the commanding general said. “I would walk across the country barefoot for these men.”
Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. He is also found at www.richardhyattcolumbus.com.