As a former 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) "Night Stalker” and now the Fort Bliss garrison command sergeant major, in his 26-plus years of service, there probably isn’t much Command Sgt. Maj. Gerardo Gonzalez hasn’t seen.
But, to be part of the leadership team that hosted the 2022 Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl schools for two visits, in his hometown, hosting the teams and staffs that he watched every New Year growing up in nearby Anthony, N.M. – even the sergeant major was taken aback.
“This is awesome,” Gonzalez said. “I’ve always seen them come on post and do the sims, but to now do it on my post, in my hometown, it’s surreal. I watched it all growing up and now I’m a part of it.”
With help from the non-profit Sun Bowl Association, the 1st Armored Division, the 11th Air Defense Artillery Brigade, public-private marketplace Freedom Crossing at Fort Bliss, and many more teams, Fort Bliss hosted student-athletes and staff from the University of Pittsburgh and UCLA, and Sun Bowl fans from across the regions and beyond, for several events Dec. 27 and Dec. 29, 2022.
Bliss, what’s known as a Mobilization Force Generation Installation due to its high tempo of deployment and deployment training services, is home to the 1st AD, known as “America’s Tank Division,” with approximately 30,000 troops and more armament than many countries.
In 1934, the El Paso Kiwanis Club wanted to organize a high school football all-star game that “would benefit underprivileged children” and to finance improvement to the El Paso High School Stadium. The following Jan. 1, 1935, the Sun Bowl was born.
For the last almost 25 years, Sun Bowl schools have visited Fort Bliss to meet with Soldiers and families, and learn a bit about winning on today’s modern battlefields before heading out to the gridiron battlefield for the historic college football game.
Teams visit, Dec. 27
During Sun Bowl week, Pitt and UCLA’s football teams came on post for an afternoon at the Iron Warrior Simulation Complex on east Bliss. While there, players got the chance to do a variety of sim center tasks, like firing air-pressurized weapons on a virtual firing range, conducting room-clearing tasks with teammates as would-be enemies loomed in an augmented-reality setting, and also returned turret fire in vehicle simulators while other teammates tried to maneuver their virtual humvees to safety.
The multi-million dollar investment in simulations at Fort Bliss allows Soldiers and fellow troops the opportunity to both stay sharp when they’re not in a live-fire environment, and also review battle plans and virtually “walk through them,” encouraging safety and conserving resources, as well as lessening environmental impact on the Fort Bliss training areas.
Away from the sims, Soldiers from the 1st AD and 11th ADA, as well as the 93rd Military Police Battalion “War Eagles,” the military-arm of day-to-day police operations at Bliss, brought hardware from their respective missions for guests to climb onto and into, including wearing body armor and combat helmets for memorable selfies.
For everything the players and staff members got to do at Bliss Dec. 27, Gonzalez said he was most pleased that the schools got a chance to meet the professional Soldiers who master the hardware the players were impressed with seeing up close.
“It’s really great to have our Soldiers out here showcasing their skills and teaching these young men and women what soldiering is all about – saying ‘this is what my profession is,’” said Gonzalez.
After the sims, the teams retreated to the Centennial Banquet and Conference Center, a Bliss FMWR facility, for a formal welcome to Fort Bliss, along with dinner and entertainment.
Battle of the Bands, Dec. 29
Team Bliss was once again a part of Sun Bowl week as Freedom Crossing at Fort Bliss, the open-air, public-private retail space on west Fort Bliss became the alternate site for the Tony the Tiger Sun Bowl Battle of the Bands.
Mariachis and baile folklorico dancers, staples of the Sun Bowl scene every year in El Paso, performed, and following them, cheer squads and bands from Pitt and UCLA took to the streets of Freedom Crossing for a dance and music face-off that offered all of the pomp and pageantry of college football bowl season for onlookers.
Bliss law enforcement teams showed quick flexibility for the Battle of the Bands as members of the general public with REAL ID-compliant identification cards who were authorized entry were invited onto the installation through dedicated gate access.
Col. Jim Brady, the Bliss garrison commander and a United States Military Academy graduate, said he was glad Team Bliss pulled together for the Sun Bowl visits, because it was a boon for recruiting, and it was also good to stand with El Paso to show the college football world the best of the Sun City by helping serve as good hosts for the schools.
“I think it says, one, we’re coming back out of COVID [restrictions],” said Brady, “and we’re getting back to the way it used to be – we have a really tight relationship. El Paso and Fort Bliss have been together for over a century, so it’s great to see the military and the community syncing with each other.”