By Don KramerJune 8, 2009
FORT LEWIS, Wash. (Army News Service, June 9, 2009) - It was billed as a team-building event, but when the Seattle Seahawks left Fort Lewis June 4, it was with an education and genuine appreciation for the Army. And the Soldiers who hosted the team visibly enjoyed sharing their lives and jobs with the National Football League athletes. It was a classic win-win.
Players arrived at the installation at 9 a.m. for greetings and initial briefings, then divided into 16 groups to be escorted by organizations representing a cross section of Army activities, and hands-on military training gave the athletes new respect for Army life and the sacrifices that form routine parts of Soldiers' lives.
"This is crazy," said T.J. Houshmandzedeh, newly signed by Seattle, about some of the duties Soldiers perform.
The 62nd Medical Brigade made Houshmandzedeh and four teammates honorary medics and sent them through a simulated combat scenario.
"We've got 40-pound weight vests, we've got guns, carrying (wounded Soldiers) on a (litter)," Houshmandzedeh said. "We've got gas masks and you've got to put them on and go over a wall, stop, fire your gun, pick (the wounded Soldier) back up. We're carrying somebody with 40-pound vests on, we're running uphill with him. It was like 'I do this and they do that' While being shot at'' Crazy."
Houshmandzedeh's tone made it clear "crazy" was a term of respect, even admiration.
Some of the other Seahawks had similarly dramatic mornings. They gathered for lunch and shared their experiences at the 593rd Sustainment Brigade dining facility.
After a meal of Army chow, buses took the team to the site of the installation obstacle and confidence courses.
As the buses arrived, Fort Lewis spokesman, Joe Piek drew parallels between the Army and the NFL. To succeed, he said, football teams and military units learned to work together.
"The Army is not all offense, the Army's not all defense, not all special teams," Piek told reporters and Seahawk staff members. "We are a team of teams."
The Hawks broke down into teams of four and warmed up for the courses that tested speed, strength, agility and toughness. The NCO-in charge, Sgt. 1st Class Cedric Henson, briefed them on the course and its value to Soldiers.
"We want to ensure that Soldiers dig deep when the time is right," said the training NCO in the 508th Military Police Battalion, "to continually remind Soldiers that they can accomplish just about anything."
Soldiers of the 508th MP Bn. placed themselves at strategic places on the courses as safety officers, but soon were cheering on the NFL players who "dug deep" and got into the spirit of the event - sprinting around obstacles, vaulting trenches and climbing ladders 30 feet into the air.
Negotiating the courses appeared to create a bond between the Soldiers and athletes, who compared notes about the obstacles and even signed autographs at a central water station.
"The Soldiers are loving this," said 1st Lt. Jeffrey Shields, of the 508th MP Bn. "Everybody is having a good time."
Shields said much preparation went into the team-building day for the Seahawks, but it was worth the effort. He observed that the professional athletes, in one major way, derived the same benefits Soldiers did from the courses.
"It was an opportunity for them to step up in front of their peers," Shields said. "That was what it was all about."
The top NCO of Fort Lewis garrison, Command Sgt. Maj. Matthew Barnes, said "camaraderie" was the primary value of the courses, one that the Seahawks learned from their military hosts.
"This is one of the best things we've done in years," Barnes said. "It's been very rewarding for both the players and the Soldiers."
(Don Kramer is writes for Fort Lewis' Aca,!A"Northwest Guardian.Aca,!A?)