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Armed Forces Classic means more than a game to military personnel, base visitors

 

Editor’s Note: The 2014 Armed Forces Classic takes place Friday at the the United States Coast Guard Air Station Borinquen in Puerto Rico and features No. 8 Louisville versus Minnesota. Andy Katz, ESPN.com senior writer, shares his thoughts on visiting military personnel, particularly in covering previous Armed Forces Classics including last year from the United States Army Garrison Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, South Korea; in 2012, the event was held inside a C-5 transport airplane hangar on Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

Highlights Of ESPN’s
Veterans Week Coverage

ESPN’s recognition of Veterans Day 2014, its sixth annual America’s Heroes initiative, will include live, day-long SportsCenter coverage from The Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio on Tuesday, and the Armed Forces Classic from the U.S. Coast Guard’s Air Station Borinquen in Puerto Rico on Friday. Earlier today, ESPN2’s First Take aired from a military hangar at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey.

“As part of ESPN’s company-wide recognition of our veterans and active troops, our presence at The Brooke Army Medical Center will be to celebrate a new chance at life provided to our wounded warriors by the caregivers there,” said Michael Fountain, senior coordinating producer. “SportsCenter’s celebration on this day will be of the resilience and never-say-never attitude of the wounded and the doctors who care for them. By integrating elements across shows and platforms, and having SportsCenter’s presence in San Antonio, we are providing fans diverse content honoring our veterans and men and women in the service.”

The public sees a game between two college basketball teams on a base.

What you don’t see, what can’t be measured, is how one game, one visit, can make a difference to break up the monotony of daily life for the enlisted men and women and their families, as well as the civilian staff.

At Landstuhl, the main military hospital at Camp Ramstein in Germany, we toured the floors of the hospital with Michigan State head basketball coach Tom Izzo and a few of his players. The halls were quiet, the visitors non-existent.

We met with a woman who had broken her back from falling out of her bed in either Afghanistan or Iraq. There was a leader of a platoon who had injured his knee and desperately wanted to be back with his unit. We visited with a civilian contractor who had sustained injuries as well.

They were all so far from home. Visitors mattered.

The children on the base might have had plenty of services on this massive facility or in the neighboring German town, but until this visit they didn’t get a chance to have a clinic with players from Michigan State and UConn, some of whom they would one day see playing in the NBA. The enthusiasm and smiles on the children was precious to behold.

A year later, in South Korea, during an autograph session with Georgetown and Oregon, an Army soldier’s wife mentioned she had just come from a parent-teacher conference. She wasn’t sugar-coating the experience.

There was one school. The education can depend on the quality of teachers in a particular year who have volunteered to come and teach. This was no romantic story.

Life can be repetitive and at times the military personnel can feel like they are in a bubble, unable or not interested in venturing too far out into the general population where language is a barrier.

But the games offer a break, a few days to have a taste of American sporting culture come to them and for the soldiers, officers and families to feel like they are at home. That’s what the Armed Forces Classic has delivered — in each year so far — always more than a game.

 

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