By Becky GallagherJanuary 7, 2009
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - The old Army and the new Army led the pre-game military appreciation event before the third annual Papajohns.com Bowl game Monday here at Legion Field Stadium.
An "old" color guard, coordinated by Sgt. 1st Class Duane Marshall of the U.S. Army 81st Regional Support Command, donned World War II Army uniforms, and carried period equipment and weapons as they marched across the 50-yard line to center field.
Other members of the vintage color guard team were Maj. Don Garrett III and Sgt. Randy Compton, also with the 81st RSC, and Airman 1st Class Kenny Stevenson of the Alabama Air National Guard.
"I volunteered to be on the historical color guard as an additional duty," said Garrett, logistics readiness coordinator at the 81st RSC. "I was a history buff when I was young. I love anything dealing with history. I guess that's what attracted me to join it."
Current and former members of the military followed the WWII re-enactors onto the field behind banners announcing their branches of service. They stood in respect as the program's guest of honor, retired Army Air Force Maj. Bert Bank, circled the field in a golf cart.
Bank, 94, survived the Bataan Death March during WWII and returned to Tuscaloosa, Ala., where he founded the University of Alabama Football Network and served in the Alabama House of Representatives and in the state senate.
Then, it was in with the "new". The Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) color guard, made up of students from the University of Alabama, marched to centerfield, at first facing the "old" color guard, then doing an about-face to set the stage for American Idol's second-season winner Ruben Studdard to sing the National Anthem.
Studdard's song ended with a bang as fireworks exploded on the sidelines and four paratroopers from the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division's Screaming Eagles Air Assault team bailed out of a Chinook helicopter from 10,000 feet overhead. The last jumper floated to Earth carrying a large American flag and ushering the football players onto the field.
Garrett said he was extremely impressed with the ceremony.
"I have never seen one done quite that way," said Garrett, "with all the branches of the military carrying their banners. And the jumpers really put it over the top."
Papajohns.com is the major sponsor of the Division 1-A NCAA-sanctioned game that is managed by and broadcast live on ESPN Regional Television network. More than 38,999 fans attended the 2008 match-up between North Carolina State University of the Atlantic Coast Conference and Rutgers University of the Big East Conference. Rutgers won the game with a final score of 29-23.