***Language and Content Warning: This article contains some harsh language as well as descriptions of the violence of war and the many dangers faced by American Soldiers during operation OIF and OEF***
On this independence day, I ask you to take a ten minute break from the barbecue, beers, and fireworks and give this a read. My hope is that this article will give the average person a better understanding of what our armed forces went through and sacrificed so we can have our fun on this holiday secure in the fact that we are free because of them and their efforts. I’ll also go into how something we all take for granted, football, can help our armed forces keep up their morale and give them a much needed taste of home when they need it the most.
A Look At Operation Iraqi Freedom
The guys I’m honored to call my friends and I have quite a bit in common. One of the things that we all love is the NFL. For one friend in particular, it became a uniquely American tradition and something that helped keep him and his service men sane during one of the worst periods of the war in Iraq. Sadr City is a part of Baghdad and was home to the Mahdi Army under the leadership of Shia Cleric Muqtadah Al Sadr. For years it was home to the worst of the insurgency and one of the most dangerous places on this planet.
As 2008 was winding down, the men of the first battalion sixth infantry regiment of the first armored division, who had been deployed to Sadr City since March of that year, had just celebrated Christmas thousands of miles from their loved ones in an alien land surrounded by people that spent their days trying to kill them.
There were very few creature comforts but the one thing these soldiers did have, and what many of them credit as being part of what kept them sane and their spirits up, was the armed forces network and access to NFL football. For a few precious hours each week these soldiers were able to turn off the war and tune in to watch their favorite teams play both professional and college football.
For men who spent the majority of each day scanning the chaotic and litter-strewn streets for improvised explosive devices, snipers, and ambushes, these few hours a week were a godsend and a small taste of home in an environment that was far from it.
The information within this article comes from many hours of research and interviews with both the primary subject of this piece, my good friend Sergeant O, and from feedback I received via Twitter from veterans of OIF (Operation Iraqi Freedom) or OEF (Operation Enduring Freedom, Afghanistan). I received feedback from many veterans who played many different roles in their deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan and are owed a great thank you for their contribution to this massive undertaking and for their service to our country.
My Personal Connection To The Primary Source
Sergeant “O” has been my friend since he moved to my town our sophomore year of high school. He is still active military so his last name and some other details have been redacted due to operational security. Upon enlisting in the United States Army in 2004, he went on three deployments. He was in Iraq as a turret gunner on a Humvee in 2005 and the commander of a Bradley fighting vehicle and the squad of soldiers that rode in it in 2008.
On his final deployment to Afghanistan, he stepped on an IED that then exploded. He burst an ear drum, broke several ribs and had burns on a good portion of his body. Thankfully he survived and went on to become a drill instructor and a weapons trainer. He is a primary source for this article, but I have also referenced countless books, documentaries and conversations with veterans to put this together and make sure it is done right.
If you take even a small understanding of what these brave men and women went through every single day while protecting our freedoms then I’ll have done my job. The members of our armed forces are already immensely respected but few people understand what it was really like to be deployed in a country like Iraq or Afghanistan. The dangers were many and ever present and the comforts few and far between.
How The Philadelphia Eagles Helped A Squad Make It Through The Night
Sunday, December 28th 2008, Lincoln Financial Field
The 9-5-1 Eagles desperately need a win to scrape into the playoffs. They would face the division rival, and consistent pain in their ass, Dallas Cowboys. The winner would claim a wild card spot and a trip to the playoffs. This was a rare season indeed for Cowboys fans, as it was week 17 and Tony Romo was still on this side of the dirt. The Cowboys, led by Romo, Terrell Owens, Jason Witten and Marion “The Barbarian” Barber, were 9-6 on the season and could secure a wild card berth with a win in enemy territory.
The New York Giants were the class of the NFC East that season and cruised to a 12-4 record as well as the overall #1 seed in the NFC. The Cowboys and Eagles now had to fight it out for a wild card spot in the last week of the regular season. Led by Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook, DeSean Jackson and Brent Celek, the Eagles were looking not only to avenge their week two loss to the Cowboys in Dallas but to claim the final wild card spot for themselves.
As both teams took the field and stood tall for the national anthem a game of a very different type was playing out thousands of miles away across an ocean with stakes a lot higher than winner goes to the playoffs. In this game the winner got to live another day and the loser would not.
Sunday, December 28th 2008, Sadr City Iraq
The men of 1st Battalion 6th Infantry Regiment of the 1st Armored Division were returning to base from yet another patrol through the heart of one of the most dangerous places on Earth. They had spent the day scanning the road for anything out of the ordinary in desperate hopes of finding IEDs before they drove over them and were blown apart. The insurgency fighting in Sadr City had brought the American military machine to a standstill using ancient hit and run tactics and crude but effective weapons and the men of 1st Battalion 6th Infantry were tasked with finding and destroying these fighters. The men of the first battalion had arrived in Sadr City in March of 2008, just prior to what historians now call “The Siege of Sadr City.”
Sergeant O, was a veteran of a previous tour of Iraq and had seen combat before. This time things had changed, what began as a sporadic uprising with inconsistent clashes after “Mission Accomplished” in 2003 had turned into a full fledged insurgency. The last time Sergeant O was in Iraq the insurgency was in it’s infancy and just finding it’s tactics and strategy. This was an entirely different war.
Sadr City was now under the control of cleric Muqtada Al Sadr, a Shia cleric with his own personal army, the “Mahdi Army” which answered to him and him alone. Estimates are not exact but it was believed the Sadr’s personal army had between 15,000 to 60,000 members and all would fight to the death for him and his cause. This was the main threat but by no means the only one or even the most deadly.
1st Battalion 6th Infantry would fight against many enemies during this deployment. Religious fanatics from countries like Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia would come with “Jihad” actually written on their passports as the reason for visiting Iraq. Members of the now disbanded Iraqi army or Republican Guard fighting for revenge against the “foreign invaders”, and Al Queda fanatics bent on turning the Iraqis against each other and causing havoc. There were threats everywhere. While some of these fighters were just in it for a paycheck there were also some who were in Iraq with their hearts set on doing whatever they could to kill an American soldier even if they had to die themselves to make it happen.
These enemies wore no uniforms, followed no rules of engagement and answered to no higher authority. They had the upper hand all the time and could choose the time and place of their attacks. Wearing civilian clothing they always had the option of throwing away their weapons and disappearing into a crowd. They didn’t have to follow the rules and the fight was always on their home turf.
The men of 1st Battalion 6th Infantry were in for the fight of their lives.
A Different Kind Of War To Win
In Philly the first half was underway. Donovan McNabb and the Eagles received the kick and drove to the Dallas 38 yard line on a pass to Brent Celek for 20 yards and a short run by Brian Westbrook. The next snap McNabb threw a short ball to Westbrook who was then stripped by Bradie James with the ball recovered by Terence Newman for Dallas. On the first possession for the Cowboys their offense went three and out and punted back to Philadelphia.
The Eagles would capitalize on this drive behind the legs of Westbrook and Buckhalter leading to a David Akers 40 yard field goal. Romo would respond in kind with a lengthy drive resulting in a Cowboys field goal from Nick Folk tying up the game at three to three at the end of the first quarter. It was still anyone’s game and the final wild card slot was still up for grabs. One of these division rivals would be moving on and one would be going home.
Back in Iraq it was just another day on another deployment. For the men of the 1st armored division the number one danger they faced every day was the IED. Now the men of the 1st Battalion 6th Infantry did have one advantage over the majority of units in Iraq as they were a mechanized infantry. Simply put that means to get where they wanted to go they usually didn’t walk. Instead they would move around Baghdad and Sadr City riding inside the Bradley Fighting Vehicle.
The Bradley was known as an infantry fighting vehicle and is part of the armored personnel carrier class of vehicles, simply put it is designed to transport soldiers from one place to another while giving them the maximum amount of protection and firepower available. Balancing out speed, durability, range and cost. The Bradley held a crew of three as well as six soldiers comfortably, depending on which variant is in use. It’s main armament was a 25mm cannon that fired either depleted uranium armor piercing rounds against other vehicles or high explosive incendiary rounds against troops in the open or behind cover.
The result of being at the painful end of this weapons system was death and destruction on a massive scale. I remember reading one account of those high explosive incendiary rounds going into a squad of Iraqi troops stuck out in the open and what it looked like. There was nothing but pieces of them and blood stains left after just a couple bursts from this weapon system. And that was only the start.
The Bradley also had a coaxial mounted m240 machine gun firing 7.62 rounds along the same line of sight as the main cannon. Both of those weapons fired using advanced optics including night vision or infrared. If shit really hit the fan the final card the Bradley could play was a TOW missile system (Tube launched, Optically guided, Wire guided). Two side mounted TOW missiles could be fired and guided optically thousands of yards to their target where each missile could annihilate a main battle tank or easily punch through a building and destroy anything or anyone inside.
The Bradley did not lack for firepower or protection, each vehicle was essentially bulletproof and featured explosive reactive armor and anti RPG slat armor among other active and passive countermeasures to protect it’s crew and soldiers. While most soldiers in Iraq traveled the roads and highways in Humvee’s which had very little armor or protection against IEDs the men of 1st Battalion 6th Infantry went into battle with the Bradley to protect them.
The Dangers These Men Faced On The Ground
Despite the better than average protection the Bradley offered these men their days were still filled with looking for, avoiding and occasionally setting off these road side bombs.
IEDs were the number one killer of all United States personnel starting from just after Baghdad fell in 2003 and continue to be the number one killing and maiming weapon used by the insurgencies in Iraq, Afghanistan and now Syria to this very day.
Their ability to be made easily and inexpensively and from existing munitions make them the ideal weapon to use against any occupying force.
In the second Iraq War, IEDs were used extensively against US-led invasion forces and by the end of 2007 they had become responsible for approximately 63% of coalition deaths in Iraq. They are also used in Afghanistan by insurgent groups, and have caused over 66% of coalition casualties in the 2001–present Afghanistan War.”(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Improvised_explosive_device)
These devices were the ever present danger and number one worry for troops on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan. It could be some old mortars or artillery shells taped together with a wired detonator buried under the dirt with a trigger man several hundred feet away with something as simple as a garage door opener or car battery to set it off.
It could be a bunch of home made explosives tucked into a barrel or pressure cooker along with nails or other shrapnel buried under the road with a pressure sensitive plate as a trigger or even the infrared sensor from your home garage door to detect a person or vehicle in it’s area. These bombs could be set off automatically or by a trigger man, they are designed to kill and wound personnel and destroy vehicles, they come in all different shapes and sizes and only had one thing in common, they were everywhere.
The men of 1st Battalion 6th Infantry were less vulnerable than others since they did most of their traveling in these armored behemoths known as the Bradley. However there will always be a bomb big enough to penetrate any armor that can be invented. During the troop surge of 2007 US forces started to see a new type of IED and it was the stuff of nightmares. Called the explosively formed penetration device or EFP this was a roadside bomb specifically designed to cleave right through these heavily armored Bradley vehicles that the men of 1st Battalion 6th Infantry were so lucky to travel in while deployed.
Wikipedia defines an EFP as “An explosively formed penetrator (EFP), also known as an explosively formed projectile, a self-forging warhead, or a self-forging fragment, is a special type of shaped charge designed to penetrate armor effectively. As the name suggests, the effect of the explosive charge is to deform a metal plate into a slug or rod shape and accelerate it toward a target. They were first developed as oil well perforators by American oil companies in the 1930s, and were first deployed as weapons in World War II.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Explosively_formed_penetrator)
The non scientific way of explaining them is this; it’s a bomb with some kind of metal or copper slug attached to it. The force of the explosion deforms the metal or copper into a molten stream of lava-like metal that explodes outwards, usually towards a pre selected area where a target such as a Bradley fighting vehicle is supposed to be.
The molten stream of copper, propelled by the force of the explosion, is now traveling towards its target at well past the speed of sound, in fact several times that speed. It then hits it’s target and between the kinetic force of the impact and the temperature of the molten lava like copper slug there is more than enough kinetic energy and heat to cleave right through armor of any kind ever developed by any country. These EFPs are based on the “shaped charge” design that is used by RPGs (rocket propelled grenades) to so efficiently blast through up to twelve inches or more of tank armor.
The effects of something like this hitting a vehicle you are sitting inside is not something you ever want to experience. The blast itself, especially if you are close to it, may instantly concuss you or blow out your eardrums or worse. The fire and heat will burn you if you aren’t inside the vehicle and behind something solid. The molten slug that was propelled into your vehicle will pass right through your armor and end up inside with you. By the time it’s passed through all that armor it’s cooled down enough so that when it gets to the inside of your Bradley it will impact against whichever bulkhead it hits first and instantly splinter into thousands of white hot shards of metal that will slice through everyone and everything that happens to be inside.
If you’re lucky it will just cut you to ribbons. If not it may set off the ammunition or fuel you are carrying with you causing a series of “secondaries” that would almost certainly destroy your vehicle and kill everyone inside.
This is just one type of IED and what it is capable of. This EFP just happened to be the biggest threat the men of 1st Battalion 6th Infantry faced because they were lucky enough to travel around Iraq in a vehicle that mostly protected them. The vast majority of soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan had to either walk everywhere or travel in Humvees, which even fitted with up-armor kits were exponentially more vulnerable to IEDs than the Bradley were.
@sconnieJosh From Twitter: (On the subject of EFPs, Explosively Formed Penetrators)
There were other types of IEDs that were just as deadly. You had cars filled to the brim with explosives (VBIEDs) that would explode next to groups of soldiers or their vehicles while on patrol, men or women with suicide vests that would blend in with a crowd then blow themselves up when the opportunity to kill an American presented itself and even mini versions of these EFP bombs in grenade form built by the Russian army and used by the insurgency as a way to penetrate American armor using something the size of a Gatorade bottle that was easily hidden.
Explosives were just the most common weapon used against our soldiers while they were deployed. It was far from the only one though. If each man had a pie chart in his head of things he had to worry about every day IEDs, EFPs, VBIEDs (car bombs) and suicide vests were just the biggest chunk of the pie. The hardships and worries were many and always present. The comforts of home?
A Little Bit Of Hope And Distraction From Home
The second quarter started with the Eagles finally finding their stride. McNabb capped off a drive spurred on by a 59 yard catch by Correll Buckhalter with a one yard rushing touchdown putting the Eagles up 10-3 with just over twelve minutes left in the quarter. Romo took back over and threw three incomplete passes in a row sending the Cowboys three and out with a punt.
The Eagles were unable to immediately take advantage of the Dallas punt and the two teams traded punts until with about seven minutes left in the quarter the Eagles began another scoring drive. While they kept trying to get Brian Westbrook going, it was the arm of McNabb and the two long catches by DeSean Jackson that allowed Donovan to find Buckhalter for a four yard touchdown pass putting the Eagles up 17-3 with two minutes left in the half.
While the game was still very much in reach for Dallas a Tony Romo interception led to a timely drive for a McNabb to Celek touchdown pass. On the ensuing kickoff Pacman Jones fumbled and Philly recovered allowing them to kick a 50 yard field goal as time expired putting the Eagles up 27-3 at halftime.
In front of their home crowd the Eagles were stepping up to the plate and were well on their way to securing the final wild card and their chance at the playoffs. On that very same day back across the ocean the men of the first battalion sixth infantry were enjoying the game and the few hours away from the madness of patrolling and working in a city filled with people hell bent on killing them. They would soon go “outside the wire” again and when they did it wasn’t just IEDs they had to worry about.
Thousands of miles away in Sadr City another fact of life in regards to survival while deployed in Iraq, and especially in Sadr City, was that you were always the away team and usually had to fight with one hand tied behind your back, metaphorically speaking. The combination of the ROE (Rules Of Engagement) and fighting on an enemies home turf put the men of the first armored division at a disadvantage every single time they got into a gun fight.
The ROE, is a set of rules and regulations that determines when, where, why and if you are allowed to fire your weapon. Due to the nature of the American media and our open society our military is always held to a high standard and is out in the open for everyone to see what they do all the time. Mistakes that result in the death or injury of civilians or non combatants can and will result in the soldier who made that mistake going to prison for the rest of their life. Sometimes these rules of engagement are so strict that American soldiers would literally have to just sit there and get shot at without being allowed to return fire due to any number of circumstances.
The insurgency is very much aware of these rules and used them to their advantage in just about every ambush or attack. American soldiers, except for a couple very specific circumstances like Fallujah or other “free fire zones”, were not allowed to fire first most of the time. They needed to get positive identification of a military aged male with a weapon the majority of the time. An IED triggerman could be standing out in the open with a radio and binoculars just waiting to give the signal to blow up American soldiers and the majority of the time an obvious and hostile act such as that would not be grounds to shoot at that person.
Insurgents don’t wear uniforms. They don’t have rules. They can blend into a crowd and take a pot shot then throw their weapon away and melt into a crowd like they were never there. Over the many months of reading stories about the Iraq war I can’t tell you how many instances I read of American soldiers knowing without a doubt they were observing enemy soldiers or combatants and not being allowed to engage them. They would literally have to wait to be shot at and even then sometimes were not allowed to return fire due to things like civilians being in the area or lack of complete identification of enemy combatants.
And those were just the ambushes or firefights, there was at least a chance in some of those for our guys to fight back if the planets aligned and the rules and situation allowed them to. The truth is that most of the attacks on our soldiers never turn into the gunfights you see in the movies.
The majority of the time it’s some kid or unemployed man throwing a grenade into your patrol path for the fifty dollars Al Queda would pay them to do so. Or it’s a length of piano wire strung across the street at roughly the height were a soldiers head sticking out of a turret on a Humvee in an effort to decapitate him, sometimes successfully. It’s the random sniper shot from 600 meters down the street coming from a window you barely see. Then there’s the pickup truck with a mortar tube welded onto the bed, the insurgents cover the top with a tarp and stop randomly to fire mortars into the local fire base or patrol route then speed off before anyone has a chance to respond.
The sad truth is that death in Iraq is random, constant and never predictable. It comes from everywhere and nowhere and very rarely are our soldiers in any kind of position to retaliate or prevent an attack from happening. They are always reacting and never dictating the tempo or action. Our soldiers are forced to be defensive the majority of the time. They are fish in a barrel and while things were not always as bad as Sadr City in 2008 there is truth to these facts even today in the fight against ISIS and the Taliban. When you invade someone elses country you are the occupier, and whether you agree with why we did it or not the fact is that as the occupier we are forced to be reactive instead of proactive.
Now all this is just detail. Evidence to back up my claim that it was never a fair fight for us, for our guys, for my friend. Let me make it simple. How would you feel if someone tried to kill you and you were not allowed to defend yourself? And that when you were allowed to defend yourself the person attacking you would fight so dirty that your actions somehow injured or killed someone innocent who had nothing to do with it at all and as a result of that action you went to prison the rest of your life. Pretty god damned frustrating I would bet.
This is what life was like over there, every single day. Dodging bombs in the road, snipers hidden on rooftops or in crowds, insurgents who wore no uniforms blending into the local populace and using them as human shields if you tried to return fire. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t, every step every move could be your last and you wouldn’t even know it.
While the men of the first armored division enjoyed the broadcast and their brief break from the war the Eagles continued to take it to the Cowboys at home in Philly. On the Cowboys first drive of the second half Brian Dawkins sacked Romo and stripped the ball from him with Chris Clemmons recovering the ball to scamper 73 yards for another Eagles touchdown.
On their very next possession Dawkins once again stripped the ball, this time from Marion Barber, Joselio Hanson recovered this time and also scored on a 96 yard fumble return. David Akers would add another field goal towards the end of the quarter and this game was as good as over going into the fourth with the Eagles ahead 44-3.
The substitutes came on and the Cowboys were able to add a Nick Folk field goal to make the final score 44-6. The Eagles had won when it came down to the wire and wrapped up the final wild card spot going into the playoffs. They would parlay that wild card into a run that took them to the NFC title game where they eventually lost to the Cardinals and Kurt Warner, who would in turn lose to the Steelers in the Super Bowl that year. This game, played days after Christmas and televised across an ocean thousands of miles to a tent in Sadr City Iraq, would give Sergeant O a small piece of happiness in an otherwise depressing tour of duty.
Life In Iraq: Stripped Of All We Take For Granted
The last aspect of life while deployed overseas in a combat zone is the one most overlooked in my opinion. The nightly news focuses on the battles, ambushes, casualties and major events of these wars but the day to day life when the bullets aren’t flying is just as challenging in some ways.
The picture above tells part of the story, something as simple as picking up your phone and being able to call your wife, parents or friends anytime you want is something we all take for granted here in the states. I remember I would be lucky to get one phone call per deployment or the occasional email from Sergeant O while he was deployed and his wife and parents didn’t do much better.
If you were lucky enough to have a reporter embedded with your unit, access to a satellite phone might be possible but for the vast majority of soldiers your ability to get in touch with home is extremely limited. There were long lines for short phone calls, ten men for every one computer and limited internet access, not to mention the pace of operations usually ensured that even if a phone or computer was available you didn’t have time for much more than a “meal” and “sleep” between patrols or sorties.
Loved ones would often worry as information was scarce and this went both ways. It’s bad enough having to worry about your loved one being deployed and know the danger they’re in without adding the stress of not even being able to communicate with them nearly enough.
As for “meals” and “sleep” those were both less than ideal as well. Do yourself a favor and look up “MRE” or “Meals Ready to Eat” and read some of the reviews or watch some of the youtube videos of these social media “influencers” eating these meals for clout that soldiers had to have three times a day every day for months on end. They are usually disgusting. They are designed to last forever and be heated with little effort and taste is the absolute last factor involved in their production. Sometimes there weren’t even enough of these and soldiers would have to go hungry as well as eat these gross excuses for food when they were available.
“Sleep” was also something completely dependent on what operation you were involved in, how many men were needed for guard duty or for patrols or how active the insurgency was at any given time. During the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003 many soldiers went without sleep for days on end, living instead off of energy drinks and coffee grounds eaten directly out of the packet. The military doesn’t promise you anything and that includes sleep and a good meal, especially if you were infantry.
The next time you think you have it bad because mom is making chicken again or you had to go to work with only five or six hours of sleep imagine eating prepackaged re hydrated dog crap and not sleeping for two or three days on top of that, oh and throw your cell phone away while you’re at it, now you’re starting to get the picture. These soldiers rarely had creature comforts of any kind and that’s on top of everyone in the city trying to kill them all the time.
Also, not sure if you guys were aware, but it’s hot as shit in Iraq, Afghanistan too. It routinely gets up to over 100’F and cracks 120’F often. There is no air conditioning for the vast majority of deployed forces. Sure if you’re lucky enough to serve on a ship in the US Navy or on one of the larger and more built up bases your chow hall or barracks might have some AC but most of the time you just had to drip sweat and drink enough water to drown the offensive line of the Steelers just to keep yourself from getting dehydrated and passing out.
So Lets Recap
You sign up, voluntarily, and get sent to war. You deploy thousands of miles to a foreign country filled with people who hate you and are hell bent on killing you. Your day consists of obsessively scanning the roads for IEDs, of which there all shapes and sizes of differing effect and level of deadliness. Sometimes you will get blown up by these IEDs and sometimes you won’t, it’s completely random.
When you do end up in a gun fight it’s usually on the ground and at the time chosen by the insurgency. They are fighting on their home turf and your rules of engagement restrict your freedom to fight back effectively. They can trap you in a complex ambush with RPGs, machine guns, mortars and sniper fire or it could just be some kid with a grenade or taking a pot shot.
It’s hot a hell. You can’t call home when you want to. The food sucks and you get very little sleep.
That’s all pretty god damned bad stuff to deal with but it’s not the worst part. No, the worst part is that you spend every waking second with the men in your unit and you have for some time now. You trained with them before deployment and are brothers with all of them. Your loyalty to each other is such that there are countless stories of soldiers sacrificing themselves to save their friends.
The bond between soldiers is the deepest bond their is. It’s been this way since man first picked up a rock and started making war on each other. Even Shakespeare knew this and some would say described it best with this quote from Henry V:
“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers. For he today that sheds his blood with me, Shall be my brother; be ne’er so vile, This day shall gentle his condition. And gentlemen in England now abed, Shall think themselves accursed they were not here, And hold their manhood’s cheap whiles any speaks, That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.”
– William Shakespeare (“Quote from King Henry V”)
The Cost Of War
People die in war. For the men and women of the United States armed forces the reality of this is that their very best friends in the entire world get hurt and die in front of them and they have to live with that after it happens. This is one of those subjects that me and sergeant O never really dive deep into. This topic and the “have you ever killed anyone” question are the ones that I will never know about and it would be disrespectful for me to even ask.
Losing your best friends in a sudden and violent fashion literally right in front of your eyes is something that most civilians could never understand. For our armed forces it is a fact of life, and they have to keep on living after they lose their brothers in arms.
I know I wouldn’t have the strength to endure it and frankly I don’t know how they do. It must be the most horrible thing to experience. All we can do as outsiders is respect these soldiers for making that sacrifice for us and do whatever we can to help them however we can when they need it. These men and women are truly the strongest of our country for being able to endure what they do and to keep living afterwards.
You may not agree with the wars we fight but we all must respect these soldiers for what they have sacrificed for us.
How This Article Took Shape
This whole thing started with me asking my friends who I’ve watched football with for many years now what games stuck out in their memory for my ten greatest moments in NFL history series. The answer I got from Sergeant O, 2008 Eagles-Cowboys week 17 at Philly, was extremely specific and I had to know why. His answer telling me that he and his men lived for small moments like a football game between patrols and the boost in morale and small taste of home it gave them in the deadly and alien world they were deployed to instantly sparked my idea for this article.
Our armed forces volunteered for this and went back time after time, deployment after deployment. And they’re still at it today right now this very second. If there is any day that we as Americans should take some time to reflect on what our soldiers went through and still go through for all of us it’s today, our independence day. The NFL and US Armed Forces have had a great relationship going back many years now and there’s something to be said for the fact that something as simple as a three hour football game can be credited by my friend sergeant O for being so vital to him and his men for keeping their spirits up.
Veterans Are Among Us In The Fantasy Football Community
It wasn’t just them. I took this article idea to Twitter and asked some of the veterans I follow to write me something telling me about their experiences overseas and how football helped them and their men while deployed, I got a ringing endorsement for football as an American pass time that can help someone feel like they’ve got a slice of home even when home is thousands of miles away. Here are some of the highlights from those interactions:
So don’t know if you want to add it or if it matters but I’m Canadian Forces (ARMY) and we relied on US AFN just as much. We get our own pipe but your feed had the football while ours had the hockey. The 3 different locations I was in I always sought the Americans for their AFN, even my 1st tour in Afghanistan when we weren’t co-located. I’d go to “your camp” and pay a hundred to get a box and mini dish to shoot to the bird and get the feed.
Gold brother, can’t put into words how it lifted the boys. It was huge man, can’t even put into words how important the connection to home is. The ability to watch games in the evening and wake up to the Sunday or Monday night game as well. It was a slice of home in a place of shit.
I spent 22 months boots on ground in Iraq. 12 from 2005-2006 and 10 from 2010-2011. For the entirety of that time I spent as a member of a Gun truck crew. First your (05’-06’) i was primarily a driver for an 1165 up-armored Humvee. We only traveled at night – and with an 8 hour time difference (1 PM ET or Normal Sunday Kickoffs – was already 9 PM Iraq time) we were normally running missions when games were going, so we it was hard to have any sort of semblance of maintaining a consistent football following. No TV/internet in our tents – so we had to hit chow halls and MWR Buildings as soon as we arrived to a new FOB and did after action PMCS – drew billets – drop our shit – then try to boogie to a place that had a game on.
One of the most interesting games I remembered from the 05’ year was Green Bay’s (I’m a cheesehead) drubbing they suffered against a Kyle Boller and Jamal Lewis and Todd Heap lead Ravens team. Right before Christmas. I walked into the Chow Hall just in time to catch a Favre interception. A few days later I spent Christmas Day getting rained on and missing out on my chance to meet Bo Jackson. He was signing autographs at our FOB – I ended up engaging a vehicle at the rear of our convoy… I missed seeing Bo entirely.
My second time over was the year Rodgers lead GB to the Super Bowl victory. I watched every playoff game – luckily our command cell were Packers Fans as well. They set up a projector and we watched Green Bay march to Dallas on the backside of a Scud Missle Barrier. I am much more of a football degenerate now than I was then –
but I promise you Football helped me through it all. Looking forward to games. Reading articles in the Stars and Stripes – getting access to the internet when I could.
In Iraq 06-07 we would watch games when we could in the Rec center tent but the 8 hours ahead hurt like a mother the next morning since we had to mount up ever morning at 0445
During the night games we had to set an alarm every half an hour to check the scores. Usually we tried to catch the fourth quarter.
The Falcons-Patriots super bowl was crazy because pretty much the whole unit went to bed thinking the Falcons had won the Super Bowl.
I want to thank you for reading this article today. It was my intention to paint a picture of what life was like for the brave men and women of our armed forces and what their lives were and are like when they are deployed to a combat zone.
Today is our independence day and on this day more than most it makes sense to take a break and read something like this to help us imagine what life is like for our soldiers who ensure our freedoms every single day.
And while this whole project started with a football question the answer led me down a months long path of researching what life is like for these people. Football may be the thing that we all have in common here in NFL Twitter-land but it’s also something that has enough power to bring some small piece of happiness to our soldiers on even their darkest days.
Football has always been larger than life for me but I can now say that after reading countless books on both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, viewing hours and hours of documentaries on the subject and interviewing the soldiers themselves I can say with absolute certainty that these men and women are also larger than life in their own way.
Take a minute today in between the tube meat, beers and fireworks to call or text your friends or family that served or still serve and tell them you appreciate them for what they did for us. It is only because of them that we can live such full lives safe and secure in the knowledge that their is no finer fighting force on the planet and no better people in the world.
Happy 4th of July.
Thank you for reading this article. If you are new to the site I write a lot of random NFL related stuff in the off season but during the season will have a weekly start or sit for your IDP players as well as a weekly instant reaction and waivers article that breaks down every NFL teams IDP production and snaps and finds you waiver targets for IDP before your league mates can. I’m also the co-host of The IDP Guys Podcast, which you can find here as well, where we discuss NFL news and all things fantasy football and pay close attention to the defensive side of the ball and your IDP players. I can be reached on Twitter @Orangeman3142 for any questions about this article or anything football related. Thank you for visiting the site and we hope to see you again soon.