FORT LEWIS, Wash. - On post for a youth football camp last Saturday, nine former NFL players toured Fort Lewis Aug. 8 engaging in first-person simulations and a Stryker ride through Leschi Town.

Ricky Ellis (Seahawks), Napoleon McCallum (Raiders), Cephus Witherspoon (Saints), Rich Umphrey (Giants), Hal Smith (Raiders), Kirk Dodge (Broncos), Bill Shine (Jets), and University of Washington Husky grads Charles Mincy (Buccaneers) and Donald Jones (Jets), who was a captain on the Huskies 1991 national champion-ship team, were in for a day they wouldn't soon forget.

The players began their day with simulator training, which included: the engagement skills trainer, the call for fire trainer and virtual battlespace 2 gaming.

They then spent a little over an hour having lunch with Soldiers from 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.

Afterwards, the players donned CVCs, loaded up into two Strykers operated by 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment Soldiers and made their way Leschi Town. The first stop was at the AAR facility for a viewing of the 10-minute "Hooah" video.

After filing back into the Strykers, the players were then taken to "downtown" Leschi Town where they were guided through several buildings including one with a floor filled with smoke and the sound of barking dogs.

The players finished off their tour of the installation by heading to the mission support training facility and then finally to spend time with Soldiers at the Warrior Transition Battalion.

For 2nd Lt. Stephen Doyle and Sgt. James Brister, both of 1-23 Inf.'s mobile gun system platoon, spending a little time getting to know these men of the gridiron was a nice change of pace from their daily routines.

"It's good seeing that we have the support of people that are obviously renowned in US society," Doyle said. "It's nice to know they also respect us, and it's a great opportunity for two different types of occupations to meet and talk. It's a great opportunity for them and us."

Though it's not everyday people get a chance to meet professional athletes, this wasn't the first time Brister had rubbed shoulders with NFL players.

"When the Strykers became new to the military, we had a chance to go down and meet the Seahawks," he said. "Everybody wants to be around a famous person, it was pretty cool. But it also served as a good recruiting base for the military. (We told them) if you can't make it in the NFL the Army is always here to accept (you)."

Brister said that though the two groups hadn't exchanged detailed stories of their chosen professions, they each described what it was like to perform the duties outlined in their job descriptions - Brister said he'll take his M-4 and Kevlar over cleats and shoulder pads.

"I gave them a breakdown of the ins and outs (of being in theater)," Brister said, "and I asked them how it is playing in front of that many people and I think I'd rather walk through Baghdad than get in front of 100,000 people."

Certainly the Soldiers appreciated the opportunity to give the players a glimpse into what they do, but the players were equally as thankful for the chance to see what it takes to defend our nation's freedom on a daily basis.

"This has just been an awesome experience for us," said McCallum, who attended the Naval Academy and served as an officer on a nuclear guided missile cruiser. "To see how everything integrates together, it's amazing for us to see all that and gather such an appreciation for what goes on."

Mincy was equally impressed.

"I've got a lot of respect for the Armed Forces," he said. "That's a real big sacrifice and I know that nobody wants to be in situations where they put their life on the line. I'm a football person and (I) respect people who put it all on the line - (the Soldiers) do it to another level."

Overall, McCallum said he was impressed with what he experienced and that he wished he could have had a chance to do the things today's Soldiers get to do.

"Being a gladiator, playing football, I would love to be young and be able to do this," he said. "It's pretty cool stuff."

Perhaps in another life, McCallum said.

Matt Smith is a reporter with Fort Lewis' Northwest Guardian.