Soldiers bid aloha to the Pro Bowl
February 19, 2009
AIEA, Hawaii - Two minutes. That's what it came down to. The clock was ticking.
Breathing quickly, veins pumping with adrenaline, they stood ready to execute.
And before they knew it, it was over, and they were headed back to their seats.
For more than 150 Soldiers, that short amount of time was all they needed to make a big impact at the National Football League's (NFL) 2009 Pro Bowl, Feb. 8.
For an average of six hours each day in the four days leading up to the event, Soldiers perfected their timing setting up and breaking down the halftime stage.
"We always finish in two minutes," said 1st Sgt. Joey Li, 205th Military Intelligence (MI) Battalion, 500th MI Brigade.
David Hughes, Pro Bowl stage coordinator and military liaison, said before he read the docket for this year's event, he was "praying for Soldiers."
His prayers were answered.
Soldiers hailed from five units, including 94th Army Air and Missile Defense Command, 8th Theater Sustainment Command, 196th Infantry Brigade, Tripler Army Medical Center, and 500th MI Bde.
Although the majority participated during the halftime show, a group of 36 Soldiers assisted in the pregame festivities by holding large stars and pulling enormous red-and-white colored parachutes over sections of the audience during the singing of the national anthem.
Additionally, Wounded Warrior Battalion Soldiers contributed behind the scenes, performing administrative tasks and coordination for several events earlier in the week.
For many, though, a week's worth of work was well worth two minutes of airtime. They had the opportunity to brush shoulders with some of the NFL's best players.
"I'm here to see Lance Briggs (Chicago Bears linebacker)," said Spc. James Legge, infantryman, 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry Regiment. Legge, who is originally from Nebraska, said he supports the Bears since his home state doesn't have a team.
Having the opportunity to participate in this year's Pro Bowl was especially important for Soldiers, like Legge, who are stationed here. Since Hawaii doesn't have an NFL team either, and the league has decided to move the Pro Bowl to the mainland next year, this year's event was a golden opportunity for fans to get their football fix.
The nearly 50,000 fans at the game were well aware of this fact, sporting shirts that read, "You can take our land. You can take our president. But don't take our Pro Bowl."
Others held signs with "Keep the Pro Bowl in Hawaii."
Family member Jonathan Freitas, 8, held a different sign. His read, "We miss you SFC Freitas. I love you, dad. Come home soon."
His father, Sgt. 1st Class Dustin Freitas, is deployed with the 65th Engineer Battalion.
"My dad loves football," Jonathan said. "He is a big fan like me."
The young Freitas clutched a football autographed by New England Patriots' mascot Pat Patriot. Freitas also got to catch a pass from Arizona Cardinal quarterback Kurt Warner during the Pro Bowl's Ohana Day, Saturday.
"I wanted (my dad) to know, even though he couldn't be here, I was still thinking about him," he said. "I miss him and want him to come home."
Family members know all too well what it's like to be separated from loved ones for long periods of time. And though Hawaii residents bade aloha (good-bye) to the Pro Bowl, Sunday, many remain optimistic the game will return soon.
Perhaps they were really saying aloha oi (until we meet again).