FORT BENNING, Ga. - Friday's Rangers in Action event and graduation had a touch of NHL flavor -- at least in the viewing stands.
Boston defenseman Andrew Ference and Lyndon Byers, a former Bruins enforcer and current radio personality in the city, turned out at Hurley Hill and Victory Pond to catch the training demonstration and mingle with Ranger Class 8-11. They also got a command brief from Ranger Training Brigade leaders and toured the unit grounds.
"The Rangers and their leadership, there are a lot of similarities with sports," Byers said. "Coaches try to build winning teams, and they put together a successful Ranger School. It puts you in awe.
"I have huge respect for them. It's an honor to come out here and see where the big boys play."
The trip was partially arranged by Staff Sgt. Lucas Carr, a personal friend of Ference and Byers who accompanied them to Fort Benning. He's a former member of 3rd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, and now a Reservist living in the Boston area.
Ference snapped photographs of the Rangers in Action and posed for a few pictures afterward. He said he's gotten to know several Soldiers and service members up in New England through Carr.
"I've become friends with some of the guys. … There's a lot to talk about between sports and what they've gone though," Ference said. "They've seen combat. I can't relate to that, but I got a ton of respect."
The 32-year-old hockey star had a postseason career-high four goals and six assists during the Bruins' run to the Stanley Cup in 2011. It marked the first title for Boston in four decades.
"You never know what's going to happen in the playoffs," he said. "Sometimes, you're the top seed and get knocked out in the first round. But all you have to do is get in. It all came together for us last year. We got hot at the right time."
Originally a 1997 draft pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Ference has also played for Calgary. He's spent the past five years in Boston.
Meanwhile, the Bruins selected Byers in the second round (39th overall) of the 1982 NHL draft. His best statistical season came in 1987-88, when he put up 10 goals and 14 assists in 53 games, and he was part of Boston's Wales Conference championship team in 1990. As an enforcer, he helped protect stars such as Ray Bourque.
Byers scored 28 goals and 43 assists for 71 points and amassed 1,081 penalty minutes in 279 NHL games.
He recalled being in his prime during the Gulf War.
"Everything I have I owe to the greatest country on the planet. My family can sleep safely at night because of them," he said of the U.S. military. "I don't take it for granted. To come down here and see what these Rangers do is phenomenal. I truly appreciate the sacrifices they make."
Byers said he often meets Rangers and hears about their stories of courage and separation from family during deployment.
"I get goosebumps thinking about these heroes and what they go through for us," he said.
Defenseman for the defending
Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins
• Started his career with the Portland Winter Hawks in the Western Hockey League
• Debuted in the National Hockey League in 1999
• Best statistical season: 2005-06, when he had four goals and 27 assists for 31 points in 82 games with Calgary.
• Traded to the Bruins in 2007
Former left winger for the Boston Bruins
• Started his career in 1981 with the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League
• Best statistical season: 1987-88, when he put up 10 goals and 14 assists for 24 points while amassing 249 penalty minutes in 53 games for the Bruins
• Part of the 1990 Wales Conference champion Boston Bruins