Just like in the Army, every player on the football field counts on their teammates to achieve a common goal. It's this shared sense of purpose and trust in one another that creates not just a team, but a family — Fires Center of Excellence and Fort Sill Command Sergeant Major Neal Sartain.
NORMAN, Okla. (Nov. 11, 2023)—In an exciting display of patriotism and teamwork, the University of Oklahoma's Veterans Appreciation football game Nov. 11 became a stage for celebrating service and unity.
Major General Phil Brooks, commanding general, Fires Center of Excellence and Fort Sill, and Command Sgt. Maj. Neil Sartain were not just spectators but active participants in the day's festivities, embodying the spirit of excellence.
The traditional Walk of Champions, which commences two-and-a-half hours before kickoff at the south plaza of the Gaylord Family — Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, saw Soldiers marching alongside cheerleaders and the Ruf/Neks, setting the tone with a pep rally-like atmosphere. This pregame ritual, a staple since 2014, ignites the crowd's excitement.
Brooks, reflecting on the day's events, shared, "Today's experience at the University of Oklahoma vividly illustrates a fundamental truth we hold dear at Fort Sill: life is better with great teammates. Whether on the football field or in the field of operations, the strength of our teams is fundamental to our success. It's an honor to share this day with the Sooners, illustrating the unity and teamwork that drive us all toward excellence."
Adding to the game day traditions, the Oklahoma National Guard showcased their equipment in the Party at The Palace, the pregame event formerly known as Sooner Fan Fest. The lawn north of the stadium buzzed with activity three-and-a-half hours before kickoff, featuring music, food vendors, sponsor giveaways, and the Sooners’ pregame radio show.
The theme of unity and service also carried over to the uniforms worn by the Sooners. The team donned their special "Unity" uniforms, conceptualized by a group of OU student-athletes inspired to underscore the critical nature of togetherness and the role of building relationships in advancing society. The unique uniforms also paid homage to former running back Prentice Gautt, a trailblazer as the first Black scholarship football player at Oklahoma, symbolizing the university's ongoing commitment to inclusivity and respect for all.
Kicking things off, Brooks hosted the traditional coin toss, a symbolic act resonating with the theme of the day—unity in service to a greater cause.
The halftime show was a resonant tribute to service members, with the 77th Army Band and OU's band, the Pride of Oklahoma, performing the official songs of all the military branches. It was a harmonious salute to veterans and a reminder of the collective respect and gratitude the nation holds for them.
"Participating in today's Walk of Champions and witnessing the energy of this community reminds me of the unparalleled strength found in unity,” Sartain said. “Just like in the Army, every player on the football field counts on their teammates to achieve a common goal. It's this shared sense of purpose and trust in one another that creates not just a team, but a family. Being here, amongst the Sooners, reinforces the timeless value of camaraderie and teamwork in achieving greatness."
The day was more than a football game; it was a demonstration of the shared values of the Army and the community—unity, excellence and service, said Brooks. As the celebrations faded and the stadium lights dimmed, the message remained clear: Together, we are stronger.