Ex-49er visits Fort Sill Soldiers, units
July 28, 2011
FORT SILL, Okla. -- Former San Francisco 49er Riki Ellison visited Soldiers here July 20, and though he talked of his professional football accomplishments, he came to learn more about his first passion -- missile defense.
Aside from a couple graybeards present, few of the Soldiers he met knew of the three Super Bowl rings Ellison earned between 1985 and 1990 before most of them were born. Fewer knew of the national championship he helped win as a player for the University of Southern California Trojan football team in 1978. Still, most Soldiers saw the massive "bling" of that hard work as he brought along a palm-sized leather purse and passed those rings around to Soldiers to look at. At 6'2, 220 pounds during his playing days, and likely still within a pound or two of that weight, the rings Ellison wore looked like they could double as brass knuckles in a pinch.
"In football I had the chance to work alongside men who were unbelievable athletes and coaches who taught me how to win, to succeed and to handle pressure," he said. "Those exact same skills are the ones these Soldiers are trying to duplicate so that on the battlefield they can be, in effect, world champions and win the Global War on Terror."
The native of New Zealand was a standout linebacker throughout his college and NFL career, but his interest in defense was not confined to the gridiron. Ellison also chose it as his field of study in college. He graduated USC with a degree in international relations specializing in defense and strategic studies. He credited a speech by former president, Ronald Reagan, about the Strategic Defense Initiative for igniting his interest in missile defense.
"There's a lot of similarities between football and missile defense such as the layered approach to each and the teamwork required to figure out how to stop an opponent," Ellison said.
Having traveled extensively talking missile defense with U.S. service members, Ellison gained some understanding of what air defense artillery systems Soldiers operate and train on. His day began with what he called an awesome early morning run, excited because it was his first chance to run with Soldiers. Tour stops included a field training exercise where he talked with Soldiers training in the Counter Rocket, Artillery and Mortar weapons system school. He also took in the Patriot General Instruction Facility and received a hands-on demonstration of new training aids that enable Soldiers to use the latest hand-held technologies.
Following lunch with battery commanders and Captains Career Course students at Bamford Dining Facility, Ellison met up with Soldiers in the 31st Air Defense Artillery. While there he received a unit mission briefing and toured the weapons systems the 31st ADA employs to meet its Army mission requirements.
Although missile defense is his passion, Ellison said he enjoyed his NFL career and all the hits he delivered on other world-class athletes. One he never had the chance to hit, Joe Montana, also kept the ball away from him on the practice field. Despite seven years squaring off across the line of scrimmage from the gold standard 49er's "West Coast" offense commanded by its Hall of Fame quarterback, Ellison never intercepted a Montana pass.
"Playing against them in practice made us great. Practices were so competitive, and they were so good on that kind of passing game that the precision they rehearsed made our defense that much better," he said.
Ellison said the 49er defense earned its accolades throughout his time with the team for shutting down opponents. Lacking the star power and fame of their teammates on offense, the 49er defense stifled other teams knowing if they could get the ball back in Montana's hands, the crafty quarterback would put points on the board and win games.
In a similar fashion to his no-name defense, he said Fort Sill and the Soldiers here are under appreciated, because of a lack of understanding and awareness of the mission here.
"Even when they get out and fight with other warfighters they're not heralded. These Soldiers I met with today fight in a defensive position a lot like football. Often no one draws attention to the work they do, but that defensive mission is so important, and I'm glad to be here to help them get some recognition and let people know how important this mission is," he said.