By Erika WonnJanuary 11, 2010
SAN ANTONIO, Texas (Jan. 9, 2010) -- The 10th anniversary of Saturday's Army All-American Bowl actually kicked off last week with a number of events that included a skills challenge, where Soldiers tested their football skills against the all-star players.
You may not think that U.S. Army Soldiers and high school football players would have a lot in common, but this year's bowl showed that they may be more similar than it seems.
Soldiers are taught discipline, courage, teamwork and selfless service when they do their everyday jobs. By the same token, these players are taught the benefits of camaraderie and sacrifice for their team which relates directly to the Soldiers' mentality.
The skills challenge, which took place on Wednesday, included a quarterback challenge and obstacle course. The West won over the East in this mini challenge before the big game on Saturday, in which the West won again, 30-14.
The NCO, Soldier, Recruiter and Drill Sergeants of the Year joined the high school all stars on the field in the skills challenge. Wounded Warriors from Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio also participated in the pre-game competition. Players from both sides of the competition were humbled by the strength and commitment these fine servicemen exhibited at the challenge.
While the wounded warriors were competing, all of the players cheered and congratulated them when they finished. The wounded warriors definitely proved to these young men that hard work and commitment to a team, a cause and yourself is worth it.
The Army Strong Zone at the stadium during the game and earlier in the week provided an opportunity for players and families to take a firsthand look at the tools and technology that the Army is using to protect and serve the great nation in which we live.
During the rest of the week's activities -- a barbeque, concert by country music star Darryl Worley and the awards banquet announcing the Player of the Year along with other notable awards -- Soldier heroes bonded with their football player counterparts, and both sides learned much from each other.
"Both sides benefit from this game," said Noncommissioned Officer of the Year, Sgt. 1st Class Aaron Beckman. "I think it shows the players who we are, and where we come from. It reminds Soldiers where they came from and how they got to where they are now."
The Ken Hall trophy and Player of the Year were awarded to Dillon Baxter, a running back from San Diego's Mission Bay High. This young player may have won the week's big award, but all of the competitors had the opportunity to learn from this experience.
A couple of the players had the opportunity to visit Washington, D.C., in December for a tour of the Pentagon, Walter Reed Army Medical Center and a wreath laying at Arlington National Cemetery.
Beckman had the opportunity to join the football players on their tour and for the wreath laying. "To have that opportunity was amazing," Beckman said. " I've been in combat, and I've seen my comrades fall. They saw that it moved me (to lay that wreath) and they took part in that experience. They will take that with them forever."
This game is a great opportunity for the Soldier heroes to bond with their high school football player counterparts. These players were fortunate to get to spend time with America's best asset... the American Soldier.
Both groups learned much from each other, and the players will take this experience with them through their college football careers and far beyond.
(Ericka Wonn writes for Army Public Affairs.)