America Supports You: NFL's Saints Raise Spirits of Wounded Warriors
By Andricka Hammonds
Special to American Forces Press Service
SAN ANTONIO, Oct. 14, 2005 The National Football League's New Orleans Saints -- displaced by Hurricane Katrina -- invited Brooke Army Medical Center's amputee-care patients to attend a recent practice at the Alamodome here.
New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson thanks Army Master Sgt. Tom Carpenter, from Brooke Army Medical Center, for his sacrifices and welcomes him to a Saints practice Oct. 7. Photo by Andricka Hammonds
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
With the New Orleans Superdome unfit after the hurricane, the team's offices and some of its "home" games are in San Antonio this season.
Saints owner Tom Benson extended his thanks to the wounded troops by inviting them to be his guests at the team's next home game, Oct. 16 against the Buffalo Bills.
In an otherwise-empty Alamodome, the soldiers had an up-close and personal view of the work that goes into game day when they attended the team's Oct. 7 practice. Each play during the practice scrimmage was accompanied by the intercom simulating the noise and music that would be heard during a real game.
"Game day is exciting enough, but it was interesting to see the preparation," Sgt. Kortney Clemons said. "As a football fan, being on the field is as close as you can get."
On the sidelines, the soldiers were able to hear calls being made and directions given. While they were in the stands, a stray football flew past them and a player came to retrieve it. In the relaxed atmosphere, warriors joked with players about not giving the football back.
Saints players frequently swatted a "cheese-head" hat hung from the goal post as a reminder of their Oct. 9 opponent, the Green Bay Packers. Sgt. Justin Hollenbach had the pleasure of taking the cheese home at the end of practice.
During the practice, Benson came to greet the soldiers, thanking them for their sacrifices. On behalf of the wounded warriors, Spc. Andrew Soule presented a Brooke Army Medical Center hat autographed by the patients attending the practice.
After practice, players came over to greet the heroes. They signed autographs and chatted with the soldiers.
"Seeing these soldiers makes our jobs seem like a piece of cake," said Saints tackle Jammal Brown, the first offensive lineman chosen in the 2005 National Football League draft. "Our jobs aren't half of what they are going through. They are heroes." The 313-pound 6-foot-6-inch Brown grew up in a military family, and his father retired from the Army.
Staff members at San Antonio's BAMC Amputee Care Center appreciated the Saints' interest in the warriors. "I'm very grateful our sports heroes spent the time and effort to chat with our nation's heroes," said Heather Soto, community reintegration coordinator at the medical center.
Troy Hopkins, a physical therapist technician, said attending practice was a sure motivator for those patients going through physical therapy.
Saints fullback Mike Karney said it was awesome meeting some real heroes. He spoke about the sacrifices that military service members make. "What we do on Sunday takes a backseat to what these guys do for our country," Karney said.
Running back Deuce McAllister talked about his high school days with wounded warrior Clemons. He and Clemons played against each other in high school in Mississippi. Clemons was a ninth grader when McAllister was a senior. As they reminisced, Clemons recalled that his team lost against McAllister's team during a football game, but jokingly recalls how his team beat McAllister's team in basketball.
Though they provided inspiration to the football players, the soldiers weren't able to keep the Saints from suffering a 53-2 drubbing at the hands of the previously winless Packers on Oct. 9. And in the game, McAllister suffered a season-ending knee injury. Both the soldiers and the Saints hope that with the medical center's wounded warriors on hand, the results will be different Oct. 16.
(Andricka Hammonds is a public affairs intern at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio.)