Fort Campbell Soldiers march to beat of their own drum
November 19, 2012
NASHVILLE, TN (Nov. 4, 2012)--The crowd rose to their feet, and their cheers were heard echoing throughout the LP Field stadium as nearly 100 Soldiers from Fort Campbell marched out from the visiting team's tunnel Nov. 4.
The Soldiers, most from the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), were at the stadium to participate in the opening and halftime ceremonies, which honored men and women from all branches of service as part of the National Football League's Salute to Service campaign.
"It was almost breathtaking when we walked out onto the field," said Sgt. Andrue McGrew, a team leader assigned to Company A, 3rd Battalion, 187th, 3rd Brigade Combat Team. "It was like being one of the players. I couldn't help but smile the whole time."
McGrew, a Lafayette, Ind., native, was one of dozens of Soldiers whose job was to unfurl and hold a giant American flag in the shape of the United States during the opening ceremony.
Alamogordo, NM, native, Staff Sgt. William Crosson, a logistics noncommissioned officer assigned to 1st Squadron, 32nd Cavalry Regiment, 1st BCT, also participated during the opening and halftime ceremonies.
"During the game I was one of the Soldiers holding the giant flag over the field, which is kind of funny because of the position of the flag I was on," said Crosson. "It was shaped like the United States, and I was positioned on the southwest. It made me laugh. It wasn't planned or thought out; I just grabbed the flag and turns out there I was, holding home."
Not only was Crosson positioned unintentionally so he was holding the section of the flag near his home state of NM, but he also had another reason to be happy to be at the game, which pitted the Tennessee Titans against the Chicago Bears--Crosson once played football against one of the Bears famed defensive linebackers.
"I know Brian Urlacher from playing football in high school," said Crosson. "We never played on the field at the same time because we both played defense. Well, he played all positions, but every time we played, he played as a defensive back. Even then you could tell that his athletic ability was awesome. For being such a big guy he was mobile, very fast, and his hands were so soft, in a football context, because if the ball was in his area of the field he was going to make a play on it.
"The last time I saw him in person was high school," Crosson added. "He is younger than me by about 2 years, I think. I moved out of state after high school and watched his career progress from there. He ended up attending the University of New Mexico and was made into a linebacker. When the Bears drafted him in the 1st round, 9th pick, I think, I thought that the Bears' defense would be restored, and for once I was right."
Crosson said this was the first time he has gotten to see Urlacher play for the Chicago team in a live event and admitted the linebacker was bigger than he had remembered from their high school days.
"To see him in Nashville was great, and to see him from down on the field was even better," said Crosson.
And from down on the field during halftime, the announcer's voice could be heard through the loudspeakers welcoming the 101st Abn. Div., which brought the crowd to their feet before their performance.
"Please join us to honor their valor and heroism," the announcer said. "Americans in uniform have faithfully served our country…today's halftime tribute recognizes the sacrifice and service…"
Color guards from the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard took turns marching across the field while the 101st Abn. Div. band played each branch song. Veterans who were watching the game from their seats were invited to also stand and be recognized.
"For me to be a part of that ceremony was a great honor," said Crosson. "You see it on TV all the time, especially around Veteran's Day--the giant flag over the field and the National Anthem being sang. It can bring a tear to your eye if you're not careful."
Crosson admitted the spectators made the experience even better.
"The fans were awesome," said Crosson. "That was probably the only time all of them came together. The Titans fans and Bears fans are a different breed. Those fans stand by their teams through thick and thin, and for the Titans on that day, it was very thin, but overall the fans really were great--all of them--Titans and Bears alike. They know how to treat veterans and service members, and they will look out for us. They can put their differences aside and for a good cause. No matter what view a person has on the war or politics, they know that the service members are doing a job just like everybody else."
Sgt. 1st Class John Casper, battalion operations NCO for the 1st Special Troops Battalion, 1st BCT, agreed with Crosson and said he was proud of the troops for their performance.
"The crowd went crazy when we started walking down that tunnel and were announced," said Casper, who is originally from Athens, Ga. "I remember hearing nothing but praise. When we were announced, it seemed like the ground started shaking because the crowd was so loud. The performance of the 101st Soldiers were very professional. We went on an invitation and were asked to complete a task that we did with very high respect. We are American Soldiers and are looked at to set a high standard. Events like this just give us a chance to show that off. I think Americans seeing their Soldiers like that boosts their morale for this country and reminds them that someone has their back."
For the first half of the football game, the service members were allowed on the Bears' sideline around the 20-yard line, just within arm's reach of some of the players, including Bears long snapper, Patrick Mannelly, who practiced right in front of them. Once the halftime show was complete, the troops were given and opportunity to sit in the stands to watch the rest of the game.
"It was a great time," said McGrew, who volunteered to participate because he is fan of the Tennessee Titans. "I would do it again because not too many people can say they were on the sidelines of an NFL game and got to see the players close up."