Division West lassoes rodeo personalities for Fort Hood visit
July 6, 2012
FORT HOOD, Texas (July 6, 2012) -- Anyone who has gone to the Belton, Texas, 4th of July Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Rodeo in the past 20 years, has heard the deep country drawl of rodeo announcer Charlie Throckmorton cracking jokes and telling the crowd who won and who lost countless rounds of bull riding, calf roping and barrel racing.
In more than two decades announcing for the Belton rodeo -- which throws the gates open free once every year for service members on military appreciation night -- Throckmorton never made it down the road to visit Fort Hood. But that all changed yesterday, when Division West hosted him and a few other Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, or PRCA, personalities and Belton Chamber of Commerce members for a "rodeo appreciation day" on post.
"This trip to Fort Hood is my first time here," Throckmorton said, after kicking the tires of a massive Stryker armored fighting vehicle, virtually flying an Apache Longbow helicopter over Iraq using a state-of-the-art flight simulator, and watching Soldiers get flipped upside down in the giant tube of a mine-resistant, ambush-protect vehicle, or MRAP, roll-over trainer. "I'm so impressed with the technology, the training for these great Soldiers and troops, and their intelligence.
"The average American civilian wouldn't have a clue of the various training exercises that go on here, or the equipment, or the transportation of the equipment," Throckmorton added. "It's mind-blowing, and it's phenomenal, what the United States Army can do."
Showing the "rodeo folks" what the Army does is exactly what Maj. Gen. Perry Wiggins, commanding general of Division West, had in mind when the Belton Chamber of Commerce proposed the visit to Fort Hood.
"We wanted to be a part of that and thought it would be a great opportunity to share our story with the folks at the Belton Rodeo," Wiggins said. "We wanted to take them out and really show them some unique training opportunities that our Soldiers have, not only from the weapons side in training and equipment, but also show them some of the safety innovations that we have had over the years to protect our Soldiers from accidents."
As a PRCA "barrelman," who used to be called rodeo clowns, Ryan Litwin is in the business of protecting bull riders and other rodeo competitors from accidents. He said he was especially surprised and impressed by the Army safety procedures he saw at the MRAP roll-over trainer.
"I guess that really kind of hit me to where you guys really and truly do train for everything that may or may not happen on the battlefield," Litwin said.
But Litwin, who goes by "Rocket Ryan" in the rodeo arena, said his favorite part of the Fort Hood visit was shooting the guns in a simulated firing range.
"I like to shoot," Litwin said. "I'm from Montana, and I hunt all the time, so I'm a shooter anyway." Small wonder, then, that he squeezed off a three-round shot group tight enough to make Wyatt Earp and Wild Bill Hickok pass on the chance to meet him out on the street at high noon.
"It was neat to be able to get on some of the simulated guns and really just kind of get a feel for them and play with them a little bit," Litwin said. "I enjoyed that a lot."
Rodeo cowboys and Soldiers share some common characteristics, Throckmorton observed.
"For the contestants, I think you have that same intestinal fortitude, you have the will to win. A Soldier has the will to win. I think that's a close parallel," Throckmorton said. "They're disciplined in what they do and a lot of them do it in adverse conditions."
The rodeo visitors probably ended their brief stay at Fort Hood with a deeper appreciation for what Soldiers do every day, Wiggins said.
"One thing about cowboys -- and these guys are true cowboys -- is that they're very patriotic. They're very loving of their nation, the flag, the ideals and values that we hold dear. They share a lot of those commonalities," Wiggins said. "And so it's great for Soldiers to see a cross-section of the United States that shares and appreciates their service. And these folks truly appreciate the service of a Soldier."
The rodeo visit was a great day spent with some great Americans, Wiggins added.
"At the end of the day, I think we all became friends, and that's the bottom line of this visit," Wiggins said. "It's really to share what we do as an Army, share what we do as an organization here at Fort Hood with our community and community partners, and be able to extend to them an opportunity to see what we do and to show them our appreciation."