ARMY-NAVY: A LASTING IMPACT
By JOE GROSS, Senior Staff Writer
November 28, 2006
Heroism is often misconstrued. Calling an athlete a hero is a misnomer. Excelling in sports isn't what true heroism is about.
When some football players close out their collegiate careers in a game against their biggest rivals you know you will hear their names again because they will be playing for millions of dollars on a National Football League team.
They are the supposed football icons who will go on to stardom and the fame that goes with it. They are the players who will become household names in the years ahead. They are the players who will be seen as heroes.
Then there are the football players who close out their collegiate careers against their archrivals in the Army-Navy game. Few know their names now. Fewer of their names will be recognizable in the years to come. It's unlikely that any of them will ever play top level football again.
They will not go on to achieve the fame and fortune that comes with professional football. They will go on to bigger things, more important things. They are the players who will truly be heroes.
The young men who will be playing in this year's Army-Navy game know what is ahead of them. They won't have to wait to find out which uniform they will wear or which city they will represent.
These men will wear the uniforms of the United States Navy, the United States Marine Corps, the United States Army. They will represent our country. They will be the heroes charged with keeping this nation great and free.
A present day look at some Naval Academy graduates who played in the Army-Navy game in the 2002 says so much about what lies ahead for the players who will play their hearts out when they meet next Saturday at Philadelphia's Lincoln Financial Field.
Because of their makeup, because of their fortitude, they look forward to their opportunities to serve our country as much as players from USC, Notre Dame, University of Texas or Ohio State look forward to their NFL careers.
There can be no argument about which of those jobs is the most important. There's no doubt about who will be the real heroes.
The players involved in this year's game may not yet realize how much it will impact their lives. They will not know today how much of what happens in this game will become forever embedded in their memories.
Every Army-Navy game overflows with emotion. The players, even the coaches, who go onto the field for their first Army-Navy game learn that it creates a more intense, a more impassioned, a more heart-rendering experience than they have ever known. And, players have discovered that their last Army-Navy games evoke even greater and more lasting sentiments.
Brian Stann, for instance, was a linebacker on the 2002 Navy team. Now a first lieutenant in the Marine Corps, Stann clearly remembers his feelings surrounding the resounding 58-12 victory in that year's Army-Navy game.
In the time since that game, Stann, who came to Navy from Dalton, Pa., has served two tours in Iraq. As a mobile assault platoon commander during his first deployment with the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment he was awarded a Silver Star: A medal given "for gallantry in action against an enemy of the United States."
Stann also remembers the action that earned him that award while on duty with Weapons Company during Operation Matador.
On a mission to seize a bridge near Karabilah, the platoon he was leading was ambushed by enemy insurgents. All hell broke loose on that day.
Under a 360-degree attack from machine gun fire, rocket-propelled grenades and improvised explosive devices, Stann called in close air support and fire from tanks that after days of action got the best of the enemy. Stann credited his Marines' work in the face of extreme danger.
When he received his Silver Star in a ceremony at Camp LeJeune, Stann said, "This award represents my guys. It's an insight of what my men did over there. There were a lot of guys who received awards from our group … not just me.
"You can forget the other medals, I just wanted the award that said 42 of 42 men came home safely," he continued. "We all came home so it's mission accomplished."
Stann, now an executive officer in Habbiniyah, Iraq, has gone through tough times but he is where he belongs, where he wants to be.
"I really can't tell begin to tell you all I have experienced leading these Marines. It hasn't gotten easier in this country, but Marines remain strong throughout any adversity," Stann said.
"Navy football brought me to my calling, to lead Marines during this war. Despite the hardships and adversities I have faced, there is no place I would rather be right now than leading these Marines in combat," he said.
With all that of that fresh in his mind, Stann recollections of his final days at the Naval Academy and the rewards of his battles on the football field came easily.
"The feelings we had as seniors after that win over Army were those of accomplishment and pride," Stann remembered. "After completing four years of football at Navy you accumulate many close friends and great memories. That is the reward of being a Navy football player. No matter how far we are separated after graduation, the brotherhood remains intact.
"Once all the seniors were in the locker room after that game, we got pretty emotional knowing that our time at the academy and in football was finished and that we must move on," he said.
Move on he did. Learning the true meaning of a battle. Leading Marines in combat. Putting his life on the line in the name of freedom. Winning a Silver Star for valor and bravery against an enemy of the United States.
Marine Corps First lieutenant Brian Stann is what true heroism is all about.
The above story was passed to us by a Navy retiree. We thought that it was worth a reprint.