WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Dec. 14, 2007) - They're not just strong. They're Army strong.

But they're not Soldiers - they're America's top high-school football players using the same leadership, discipline and teamwork that Soldiers put into play on the battlefield. These students will battle it out Jan. 5 in this year's Army All-American Bowl, an East-West match-up in San Antonio sponsored by U.S. Army Accessions Command.

More than ninety Soldier heroes - recipients of the Silver Star, Bronze Star and Purple Heart medals - will be recognized for their heroism in combat during the game. They will also be paired up with the players so the athletes can see first hand what being a true hero is all about.

"I would hope that what we're able to do is show that we're all people, not just who have received awards, but we're all members of the military," said Capt. Lee Vandewater, a Bronze Star with Valor recipient from the Iowa National Guard. "We all are role models and hopefully we can show the high level of integrity we all have, and can pass it on to them. I'm hoping that we can positively influence these athletes because some of these guys are going to be in the NFL. They're going to be role models."

According to Coach Herman Boone, namesake of the bowl's most-valuable-player trophy, and his former assistant, Coach Bill Yoast, the seven Army values - loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage - are crucial in building any sports team.

Portrayed by Denzel Washington in the movie "Remember the Titans," Coach Boone was named as the head football coach of the newly-integrated T. C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Va., in 1971 and worked with Coach Yoast to build a successful team in spite of racial tensions.

Student athletes come together from across the country and must learn to work together and function as a team in a matter of days, and the teamwork and leadership experience they gain as a result are invaluable, according to Coach Boone.

"But one of the most important things that those kids get to see is that the values of a football team are exactly the same values of the United States Army," he said.

"They're two very similar situations," said Capt. Vandewater, who played high school sports. "One may be for entertainment and one may be for national security, but the things that play into them are similar: the leadership aspect, doing things as a team, relying on the strength of certain individuals and realizing the weakness of others, using all of that to your advantage. That's what makes a strong, cohesive military unit and that's what makes a successful football team."

Coach Yoast, a World War II veteran, agreed, saying that football coaches and scouts look for more than just the best player.

"They're looking for character," he said. "And the Army is doing the same thing. You can measure many things, but you can't measure loyalty and integrity, and that comes out of training in both the Army and athletics."

Both he and Coach Boone said that a team is a group of individuals with only one heartbeat and one goal, selfless in their loyalty and dedication to the good of the group. If any member acts as an individual the game, or battle, will be lost.

"You first build a team through trust. Trust becomes respect. Respect becomes the glue that binds us together. I used to tell my team that every person deserves to be respected. They don't deserve to be liked, but they deserve to be respected," said Coach Boone.

Coach Boone used to tell his players about his brother, a Soldier in North Africa during World War II, as an example of what teamwork can accomplish and how it can conquer even deepest racism. One of his brother's platoon mates was from Mississippi, and racist. But during one firefight, the two men ended up in the same foxhole and saved each others' lives.

"They looked at each other, and the thought in both of their eyes was, 'By God man, you're black.' 'Well, by God man, you're white.' 'Well, okay, we've got to put our differences aside.' My brother said they put their backs together, and they started firing in unison, 360 degrees, and they saved each other's lives. They created respect for each other. That respect kept those two people corresponding for 50 years. Had either one of them acted as an individual, both of them would have been dead," he said.

Coach Yoast said he learned a lot of discipline during his service and believes this is important in helping athletes and Soldiers deal with physical, mental and emotional challenges.

"The young men in service are so disciplined. I can see athletes becoming more and more so. We spend a lot of time in San Antonio with the Army and I'm just amazed at the way these young men carry themselves, not only physically, but the way they come back from war and come out and deal with the public, their self-confidence," he said.

In acronym form, the seven Army values spell out an abbreviation of leadership. This is appropriate, because, as Coach Boone said, the values are instilled in a team through its leaders.

"Leaders lead not only by example, leaders lead with passion," he said. "Whether people believe in this person or not, they learn to respect him because he believes with passion and he leads with truthfulness, honor and dignity. And he makes great sacrifices, not for himself, but for his team. I used to ask my coaches, 'After each practice, ask yourselves, what three leadership goals can you come up with tomorrow that will make your team a better team than it was today''"

Both men work as motivational speakers and Coach Boone talks to high school coaches and athletes about the opportunities the Army can offer the many athletes who won't get a scholarship. The values are similar and for some students, the Army may give them their only opportunity to go to college.

"We're your fathers, those of you who do not have a father. We love you like a father, we will protect you, we will honor you, we will teach you, now all of a sudden you've graduated, and what can we do for you' Because of the education the United States Army can give to each one of those kids, then the United States Army becomes a very viable option. I found out that kids in today's Army in some places in this country make more in salary than first year teachers. I looked around at my team, the '71 Titans, and there were colonels, majors and captains who had gone to college through the United States Army."

The game will air at noon CST on NBC, Jan. 5. For more information about the game, visit <a href="http://www.usarmyallamericanbowl.com"target=_blank>
www.usarmyallamericanbowl.com</a>. For more information about Soldier heroes visit <a href="http://www.army.mil/allamericanbowl/2008"target=_blank>

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