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Face of Defense: Guardsman Succeeds on Battlefield, Gridiron

By Ashley Schiller
Special to American Forces Press Service

LOGAN, Utah, Nov. 10, 2008 – A member of the Utah National Guard’s 19th Special Forces Group received the Meritorious Service Medal here Nov. 1 at halftime of a Utah State University football game in front of thousands of appreciative fans – and his teammates.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Michael Green, a lineman on the Utah State Aggies football team, stands at attention during a Nov. 1, 2008, halftime ceremony. Green received the Meritorious Service Medal for his service in Afghanistan with the Utah National Guard’s 19th Special Forces Group. Photo courtesy of Utah State University
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Army Sgt. Michael Green, who received the medal for service in Afghanistan as an intelligence noncommissioned officer, is a lineman for the Utah State Aggies.

The 6-foot-4-inch, 300-pound offensive tackle served for nine months in Afghanistan before coming to Utah State to pursue a master's degree in political science.

He described several parallels between playing football and serving in the military.

"Communication is huge in the military,” he said. “You've got to communicate with other units as you coordinate efforts, just like you have to communicate here as you coordinate on the offensive line."

Both create a feeling of camaraderie, he said, and require precise planning and intensity.

"You should play every play like it's life or death, which is the same as in the military," Green said.

Although he faced some life-threatening situations in Afghanistan -- a suicide bomber attacked his base on his second day in the country -- Green said he mostly was away from direct combat. He served as an analyst, receiving and processing reports from intelligence collectors on the ground and in the sky.

"I would read the reports and try to figure out what each one meant and what was going on," he said. "I'd plot them on a map or on a computer and then look for patterns, similarities or dissimilarities. It was taking all the pieces of the puzzle and putting them together. We had to find where the intelligence gaps were, and then focus efforts to try to find out that information."

Many soldiers become desensitized to the danger surrounding them, Green said. He compared the experience of leaving the base to driving on the freeway.

"The freeway is very fast-paced, with a lot of moving things," Green said. "It's very dangerous, but you have control with your steering wheel, so you feel like you mitigate the risk. It's the same thing as going ‘outside the wire.’ You have controls with your helicopters [and] other units, and you have your gun with you. You're focused on the mission at hand, so you ignore some of the dangers.

"But there are times when you'll feel it,” he continued, “just like when you see a car accident and you hear on the news that someone died. Sometimes it will be closer to you; you'll be in the car accident, and the person next to you will die. That's kind of how I correlate it."

Green’s time in Afghanistan made him more grateful for simple things such as paved roads, flushing toilets and comfortable beds. "I also got a real good appreciation for white bread and soft Wonder Bread," he said.

Despite the sacrifices, "serving in the military was worth it, just like playing football is worth it," he said.

And football apparently is worth it, whether he plays or not. Although Green has not yet played in a USU game, he fills an important role on the team as a scout player. He prepares the defense for the games by studying and then running the opposing team's plays during practice.

Green has dressed for several games over the past few years, thus fulfilling his childhood dream of running through the tunnel onto the field. Last fall's season opener, especially, made an impact on him.

"It was indescribable,” he recalled. “The game brought a pretty big crowd. When you practice in the stadium, you don't realize how big it is. But when you go out in a game and you see all the people out there, you're like 'Wow.' It's a whole different experience."

Whether or not he gets the opportunity to run through the tunnel again this season, Green said, he believes he has had a fulfilling experience.

"I love the game," he said. "It's pretty cool to come out every day and put on the helmet and play when I'm almost 25 years old. It gives me something to do so I don't get in trouble." He said he also appreciates the "instant friendships" he made at the new school.

In addition to the friendships he's made, Green said playing for the Aggies has helped with his leadership, something that hasn't gone unnoticed by USU head coach Brent Guy.

"It's a unique situation to have a player who has served his country,” Guy said. “Mike brings a different maturity that you normally don't have, and with that comes added leadership. It is a different experience for some of our younger players to be playing with a military veteran, especially with the theater of serving in Afghanistan."

Green, a pilot, is now nearly finished with his master's degree. His thesis focuses on government regulation, specifically the Federal Aviation Administration.

Green's next stop will be law school. He is applying to a variety of schools all over the country, but said he would like to stay in Utah, and that he someday may want to run for public office.

(Ashley Schiller works in the Utah State University Athletic Media Relations Office.)

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