By Rob McIlvaine January 6, 2012
SAN ANTONIO (Army News Service, Jan. 6, 2012) --- The football game between the best high school players from the East and West will be televised live as NBC cameras capture the rising crescendo at the Alamodome, Jan. 7, beginning at noon CST.
Both the players and their Soldier-Heroes, who have been paired for support and camaraderie, are spending the days before the game making lasting friendships.
Staff Sgt. Shawn Hibbard, the Soldier-Hero of East Team's #19 Eli Harold, sees the uniforms of the Army and football player as one in the same.
"It's a battle on the gridiron, and maybe it's not the same seriousness (as a battle in war) as far as implications that if you do something wrong, but it's still that dedication to your team, to your teammates, to your fellow troops," said Hibbard, an Army Reserve Soldier who also played football with the Richmond Revolution of the Indoor Football League.
To illustrate what he means, Hibbard mentioned the cover story of him on the Revolution game program.
"They said, 'Revolution wide receiver Shawn Hibbard has two bands of brothers,' because I have the uniform on the field and I have the uniform off the field, and I look at the values of both as having dignity, respect, leadership, selfless service. They're hand in hand," he said.
He added that the high school players understand the guy on the right and the guy on the left depends on you, "just like we do in the Army."
"We depend on our battle buddies to make sure that we all come back," Hibbard said. "I think football players share that mentality. If I keep my block and my QB can make that pass, it's a good day."
For more than 11 years, the All-American Bowl has provided national exposure for future college and NFL stars, such as Tim Tebow (Denver Broncos quarterback), Mark Sanchez (New York Jets quarterback), Adrian Peterson (Minnesota Vikings running back), and Ndamukong Suh (Detroit Lions defensive tackle) -- all U.S. Army All-Americans.
Last year, reported the bowl's website, nearly 38,000 filled the Alamodome, and it was the most-watched sporting event on television over the weekend, excluding the NFL playoffs.
On Saturday, many Army senior leaders will be cheering on the teams, including Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, Sgt. Guy Mellor, the U.S. Army NCO of the Year, and Spc. Thomas Michael Hauser, the U.S. Army Soldier of the Year.
"I'm hoping to impart to these players some of the experiences in the Army and also some of the knowledge I gained from those experiences that I had," Mellor said. "I'd like to just share with them the life lessons I've learned and help them build better character, help them have high hopes for their future, and I'd like to give them a better knowledge of what the Army is all about, what the Army does for the community in general and for our nation. "
"So anytime I get a chance to share that knowledge, to share what it's taught me and how it shaped me and molded me to be a better leader, to be just a better person, I definitely want to share that knowledge with them," he said.
Hauser said he was the youngest in his unit, but he learned from great mentors.
"My platoon sergeant nominated me to go to a competition at the division level to become the Soldier of the Year at Fort Drum (N.Y.) I was a private first class going against sergeants and specialists. He didn't think I was going to win, but he just wanted to see the potential that I had as a Soldier. I gave it everything I had, I had good leadership to train me and we really stuck together, and with the teamwork and commitment we both gave each other, I won, even though it ended up being a tie," Hauser said.
The post sergeant major selected him to go to Fort Bragg, N.C., for the 18th Airborne Corps level, then he went to Fort Hood for the FORSCOM level, and then he went to Fort Lee, Va., for the Department of the Army level.
"All this hard work and dedication has given me a lot of things to experience," he explained. "Since I won, I've traveled around a lot, seen Washington, D.C., got to meet my congressmen, and the biggest thing I'm doing right now is here in San Antonio, Texas, for the All-American Army Bowl."
These young players, he said, worked their way up with teamwork, hard work, commitment, and all those things building up to become one of the best players in the country.
"As for us, the NCO of the Year and the Soldier of the Year, we did the same thing," Hauser said. "We worked through certain different levels throughout the Army and with the teamwork from our leadership training us and the commitment, dedication we had as a team for them to train us to come up through these competitions and win, shows a lot of the same values."
"With these high school kids playing in the All-American Bowl, they're representing us as the Army, so for us to come together, meet each other and coming up from the same teams with all the hard work and meeting them, it's a good honor for both of us," he continued.
While the past 10 years of conflict are drawing down, some might think that the All-American Bowl might become a thing of the past.
But Maj. Gen. Marsha Carol Martin Anderson, the first African-American woman to achieve this rank in the U.S. Army Reserve, would disagree.
"I am the deputy chief of Army Reserve Individual Mobilization Augmentees," she said. "This is a category of Reserve Soldiers who can be called up on very short notice."
Prior to her position, Anderson was deputy commanding general at Human Resources Command, Fort Knox, Kentucky.
"I think we're heading into a time where we need (something like the All-American Bowl) even more. Because as we draw down the active force we can't do what we did in past periods, which is draw it down, pull back funding and then suddenly realize there's (the possibility of) war. We need to spin back up very quickly," Anderson said. "We had the luxury to do that, years ago.
"We aren't going to have that luxury going forward because we have much more agile adversaries," she said. "So we need to have a Guard and Reserve that are filled with people who have the skill sets we need so we can go on a moment's notice. And we need to capitalize on that and that's one of the things that I'll be working on, is to create a different paradigm about how we use our armed forces. "
To the players, the two top Soldiers each had a few more words of advice.
"Chase your dreams, set your goals high, and work hard for them," Mellor said.
"And have fun," added Hauser.
Joining the players in being honored as All-Americans and performing in the Alamodome will be the U.S. Army All-American Marching Band, consisting of 125 of the nation's finest young musicians and color guard members who will perform at halftime of the bowl.
Selection as a U.S. Army All-American is an important and prestigious honor for these athletes and musicians, said the bowl's website. Only the strongest are chosen to wear the Army colors, and these young men and women truly embody the characteristics of the Army Strong Soldier.
Activities throughout the week leading up to the game help connect these All-American athletes and musicians with Army Soldier-Heroes from around the country and provide better understanding of what it takes to be a Soldier.
Along with the necessary practices, the high school players will be participating in activities with wounded warriors from Fort Sam Houston, Texas, and a sit-up and push-up competition with the Soldier-Heroes, ending with an eating contest. A welcome barbeque and awards dinner are also among the activities planned.
For more information on the U.S. Army All-American Bowl and its related events, visit www.usarmyallamericanbowl.com and www.goarmy.com/events/aab or the official Facebook and Twitter pages located at http://www.facebook.com/USArmyAllAmericanBowl and www.twitter.com/armyallamerican.