SAN ANTONIO (Army News Service, Jan. 9, 2010) -- The Army's number-one opportunity to honor some of its greatest heroes, wounded warriors, future Soldiers and the nation's top high school football athletes unfolded on Saturday during the All-American Bowl all-star high school football contest at the Alamodome.

It was the Army's 10th time to sponsor the event that saw the West team dominate the East 30-14 in front of a crowd of 34,126 and a nationally televised audience.

During pre-game activities, 90 Soldier-Heroes, representing the ranks of active component, Reserve, and National Guard, were paired with a player from either the West or East teams and introduced at midfield prior to kickoff. The Soldier-Heroes represented Soldiers who were awarded the Silver Star, Bronze Star or Purple Heart for actions during previous deployments.

This year, during a series of week-long activities leading up to game day, the Department of the Army Soldier of the Year, the Army's NCO of the Year, along with the Recruiter of the Year and both active-duty and Reserve Drill Sergeant of the Year were also honored.

"There are so many great people who serve our country, and it has been a great honor and opportunity for me to interact with some of the greatest football players in the country, many who will get the opportunity to go on to the NFL," said Sgt. Clancey Henderson, the Army's Soldier of the Year, currently stationed at Fort Riley, Kan.

The 2010 contest also saw a player matched with his Soldier-Hero dad. 1st Sgt. Aleki Potoae, first sergeant of Company C, 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry, Fort Lewis, Wash., was matched with his son, Sione, a 6'3" 285-pound defensive end with the West team.

"It means a lot to be here as a Soldier-Hero and have my son playing in the game," said Potoae. "In 2003 I was here as part of a detail and brought my son back a hat and a game coin to help motivate him. It's very important for young people, like my son, to understand what the Army represents and the opportunities available for those who work hard and take the education and experience."

As in previous years, Soldier-Heroes attended a series of events that offered opportunities for them to interact with the nation's top athletes that ranged from a barbecue social to skills competitions and an award banquet and presentation.

"This week has been tremendous," said Sgt. 1st Class Robert A. Barnes, a Soldier-Hero assigned to the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Ky. "I've had an opportunity to meet so many wonderful people, from all walks of life, both military and civilian, to include the player that I'm sponsoring, and his family. I've been involved in several eating events and an event that highlighted country singer Darryl Worley."

"What impressed me the most was the size of the players and how intrigued we have been with one another," said Spc. Jason L. Whitehorse, a New Mexico native also stationed at Fort Campbell. "Even though I've never been here before, or met anyone here, both the Soldier-Heroes and players have really impressed me."

The history of the game and the stories of self sacrifice and courage of Soldiers hit home with one Soldier-Hero who met face-to-face with two legends from both sides.

"While in the lobby of my hotel, I was called over by a man who wanted to thank me for my service," said Army Reserve Staff Sgt. Michael Smith, a chemical weapons NCO with the 375th Chemical Company in St. Louis, Mo. "After talking to him for awhile, I noticed a huge ring on his finger. When I asked about it, he held it up with pride and told me he had been a head coach years ago and this was his ring from that time. He asked me if I had ever seen the movie, 'Remember the Titans.' I told him that I had seen it and that it was a great movie. He tapped his chest and said, 'Coach Boone, nice to meet you.'"

"It was amazing sitting there talking to an icon of American football," continued Smith. "Not three minutes later, I got onto an elevator and a man asked me how I was doing. I explained that I had just met Coach Boone and talked about how great it was to meet an American legend. The man smiled and reached into his pocket and pulled his hand out to shake mine. He then said, 'Now you've just met another legend,' then handed me a coin and walked out of the elevator. When I examined the coin, I realized it was Major General Brady, a Medal of Honor recipient from the Vietnam war."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16