Tuesday, June 3, 2008

It's All About The U! Shannon gains perspective from overseas trip

Muitas pessoas são contra a guerra, eu me incluo nesta lista, mas este texto em particular foi muito bem escrito e não tive coragem de traduzi-lo... Alguns técnicos foram visitar postos de combate e participaram de alguns exercícios. Aqui fala da experiência trazida por Randy Shannon, técnico dos Hurricanes...
Randy Shannon is used to seeing kids this age, 19, 20 years old, on their backs in pain. Usually it is on a football field, maybe after one too many wind sprints in practice has sucked the air from a player's chest. Maybe it is when one of his Miami Hurricanes is wincing and grasping at a wrenched knee.

Then again, pain is a relative term.

This time, the young man about that age was prone in a hospital bed at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, a bandaged stub below the knee where a whole leg once was. A crooked ladder of stitches crawling across the right side of the kid's disfigured face.

This was the awful work of a roadside bomb (improvised explosive device, or IED) that blasted up through the soldier's armored vehicle and did everything but kill him. This is one way for a kid fighting in Iraq to earn a little R&R.

Shannon approached the soldier's bed feeling a mix of awe, caution and dread. Feeling something he wasn't prepared for, eyelids moistening and pinching back tears.

This is a tough football coach, mind you, a tough man hardened by growing up in Liberty City. This is a man whose father was murdered in a brawl when Randy was 3. A man who saw two brothers and a sister swallowed by cocaine and then die of complications from AIDS.

Yet there was something about seeing a face barely old enough to need a razor torn like that. Something about seeing a leg that wasn't there.

''That was tough for me. That was emotional,'' Shannon recalled Monday of what struck him most about the extraordinary week he spent in late May.

Then the strangest thing happened. You how some things, even as they happen, you know you will remember as long as you live?

''He started cracking jokes. He was funny,'' Shannon said. ``I never heard anything like it in my life.''

Shannon, 42, was one of five college football coaches who toured military bases across the Middle East on a recent goodwill tour designed to lift the spirits of our military personnel, many of whom were back from or headed to combat in Iraq or Afghanistan.

That day, an extraordinary soldier lifted Shannon's spirits instead.

He was a young man who sought nobody's pity, who felt lucky to be alive. He jokingly pointed out the irony of a minesweeper being hit by a roadside bomb. He even kidded about the deep gash that ran nearly temple to chin.

''You like my face lift?'' the soldier asked Shannon with a crooked smile.

The UM coach recalled his experiences Monday to a handful of local media. It was quite a contrast to the throng of reporters and cameras four times as big the day before for a ''news conference'' at which the Dolphins' Jason Taylor worked very hard to say very little.

There is a lesson in there somewhere.


We read about the rising suicide crisis among soldiers, and a tour like this is a small effort to raise morale when possible. To let our military stationed across the world know they are appreciated, and not forgotten. You can be anywhere on the hawk/dove spectrum and appreciate the good in that.

So Shannon -- along with Georgia's Mark Richt, Auburn's Tommy Tuberville, Notre Dame's Charlie Weis and Yale's Jack Siedlecki -- flew to Scott Air Force Base in Illinois on May 20 on a journey that never before had involved NCAA football.

A 15-hour flight aboard a windowless KC-135 tanker carrying 100,000 pounds of jet fuel took the coaches to the Landstuhl hospital in Germany, and from there they were at sea aboard the USS Nassau (the Navy's biggest amphibious attack ship); at Al Udeid Air Base and Camp As Sayliaha in Qatar; at a Naval Service Center in Bahrain; and at a U.S. air base at a secret location in Southwest Asia -- some of the shuttles made aboard a CH-53 helicopter.

(Shannon's daughter served in the Navy until this past April, part of her tour stationed outside Bahrain, as a corpsman, similar to a nurse, on a hospital ship).

Along the way, the coaches witnessed examples of military operations, including a midair refueling exercise in which a fighter jet being fueled was a mere

30 feet below the tanker.

Shannon is used to telling his 19-year-olds to protect the football. Now he was among kids the same age protecting something closer to freedom.

''I got a 19-year-old driving a refueling plane? That was overwhelming to me,'' Shannon said. ``A great experience. A great education.

``We got it lucky. All of us, we got it lucky.''

The coaches traveled, slept and ate like soldiers, not generals.

''No stone crabs,'' Shannon kidded.

At all the stops, the coaches handed out shirts, decals, footballs, Frisbees, pictures and pins; signed hundreds of autographs; visited patients; held symposiums to answer questions; conducted a flag football game; and even staged a ''combine,'' at which soldiers could run the 40-yard dash, bench-press weights and so forth. Shannon played dominoes with soldiers who shared his love of the ``bones.''

Mostly, what the coaches did was care.

Everywhere they went, soldiers asked the football men: ``Does everybody back at home still respect us? Do they believe in what we're doing?''

But much of the conversation was lighter.


Shannon spoke 25 minutes with a soldier who asked him, ``Coach, didn't you come down to East St. John's?''

It turned out he was a teammate of two guys from a Louisiana high school whom Shannon had visited on a recruiting mission.

One soldier happened to know Shannon's cousin. Another was a Navy SEAL from Miami Sunset High.

Once, Shannon discovered a soldier from his alma mater, Miami Norland High, was seated with another coach in the mess hall.

''Man, get over here to my table!'' Shannon called out.

The trip ended at the White House, with a 15-minute Oval Office meeting with President Bush on Memorial Day.

Shannon returned with some lessons he will share with his Hurricanes.

''About performing under stress at all times. About putting teamwork above all,'' he said. ``About believing and trusting in each other. About character, performance and high standards.''

Mostly, the coach returned with a memory of a kid with a torn-up face and a leg that wasn't there.

It was a memory that might have haunted, if not for the soldier's laughter.

The sound of the human spirit.


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