SAN ANTONIO, Texas (Army News Service, Jan. 5) -- Standing at the 50-yard line of the Alamodome, and in front of a national TV audience, Warrant Officer Stephanie Leonard shouted into the public address microphone the reason why she and 90 other Soldier heroes are here to share their leadership and experiences -- "I am Army strong!"

Recognized as the Army's premiere recruiting activity, the annual U.S. Army All-American Bowl kicked off with a mix of heroes in Army combat uniforms, alongside the nation's most talented high school football players, many who are destined to become collegiate and NFL stars.

More than 90 of the best high school athletes in the nation battled in an East vs. West contest in front of a nationally televised audience and 36,534 stadium fans, the highest attendance in the eight-year history of the Army-sponsored all-star game. This year the East team won the game 33 - 23.

Just as many Soldier-heroes were matched on the field during pre-game activities during player introductions. A total of 91 Soldiers represented the Army -- all recipients of either the Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star or the Purple Heart in actions in either Iraq or Afghanistan.

For the Soldier-heroes, the All-American Bowl experience was a way for them to be publicly recognized for their service to country.

"This has been a great experience for me. I got to meet a group of great Soldiers from all over the world. The young athletes are motivated and dedicated. Their energy and dreams remind me why this country is so great," said Staff Sgt. Gwendolyn E. Harman, a Purple Heart recipient from the 3rd Battalion, 319th Logistic Support Regiment, Lancaster, Pa.

"It's been an honor to have been chosen to represent the Army Reserve and have been able to tell my story to my player and others. My player has had so many questions. It made me more proud to have served my country and I'm eager to continue," said Spc. Michael T. Hughes from the 325th Military Intelligence Battalion, the Bronx. He was awarded the Purple Heart for injuries sustained during service in Iraq.

Most of the Soldier-heroes recognized in the Alamodome, as part of the Army's top community relations program, believe that the sacrifices they've made for their country are a small way of giving back to what they feel is a much greater payback.

"I feel that it's important for us to protect our homeland, our families, our freedoms and our way of life," said Sgt. David E. Stover II, a cavalry scout with C Troop, 1st Squadron, 14th Cavalry Regiment, Fort Lewis, Wash. A great number of men and women have sacrificed their lives to give us the freedom and I don't want those sacrifices to be in vain."

(Michael Tolzmann and Rich Lamance are writers and editors with the Army and Air Force Hometown News Service in San Antonio.)