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SAN ANTONIO (Army News Service, Jan. 3, 2009)--
In what has become the U.S. Army's premier showcase of both the nation's best talent of high school football athletes and it's most courageous and decorated Soldier-Heroes, the All-American all-star high school football game made its ninth appearance on Saturday.
In a contest that pitted the best players from the East and West, the East team had little trouble defeating the West, 30 to 17 in front of 32,732 fans and a live national audience at the Alamodome in San Antonio.
During pre-game activities 85 Soldier-Heroes, representing the active duty, Reserve and National Guard, were each paired with a player from either the West or East team and recognized on the field prior to kickoff. All Soldier-Heroes received either the Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star or Purple Heart.
This year's game registered a first with a husband and wife Soldier-Hero team from Fort Bragg, N.C., involved with pre-game activities with their son, a starting player on the East team.
Pre-game activities began with a precision display of rifle wizardry from the U.S. Army Drill Team, a specialty unit of the 3rd U.S. Infantry (Old Guard). The Soldiers used bayonet-tipped 1903-style Springfield rifles to perform their routines. The 82nd Airborne Division Chorus, from Fort Bragg, provided the music during the pre-game ceremony.
A group of more than 100 delayed entry program recruits from the San Antonio area took their oath of enlistment from the Army's Vice Chief of Staff, Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli. Training and Doctrine Command commanding general, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, administered the oath of office to two area ROTC cadets commissioned as second lieutenants. Cadet Barry Johnson-Rivera was pinned by his mother, Command Sgt. Maj. Frances Rivera; and Cadet Alexandra Brenner was pinned by Maj.Gen. Arthur Bartell, commanding general of the U.S. Army Cadet Command.
Two Medal of Honor recipients, retired Army Maj.Gen. Patrick Brady, from San Antonio, and Mr. Clarence Sasser of Rosharon, Texas, were also recognized during the ceremony. The pe-game activities were capped by the game ball presented by a Special Forces team rappelling from the rafters onto the field. The coin toss was presented by Secretary of the Army Pete Geren, along with Gen. Chiarelli, Sergeant Major of the Army Kenneth O. Preston and Staff Sgt. Jason Fetty, a Soldier-Hero from Fort Bragg.
Command Sgt. Major Kenneth E. Nixon, Sr., a battalion command sergeant major with the 189th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, currently deployed to Afghanistan, and his wife, Master Sgt. Fotini Nixon, the G-1 sergeant major with the XVIII Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg, were both designated as Soldier-Heroes for the event, and both were on hand to see their son Xavier play as on offensive lineman for the East Team. Xavier, 18, played both offense and defensive tackle for Jack Britt High School in Fayetteville, N.C., and at 6'7" and 270 lbs., is considered one of the premiere linemen in the nation.
"It was really a great honor to have the opportunity to share this special moment with my son," said Command Sgt. Maj. Nixon. "This was the first game of his senior year that I had the chance to physically see him play. He looks awesome!"
Xavier's mom had the opportunity to meet her son on the playing field before kickoff, as part of the pre-game activities that introduced both players and Soldier-Heroes to the audience. "It was very exciting to be paired up with my son as his Soldier-Hero," said Master Sgt. Nixon. "This entire week has been exciting, especially having the opportunity to spend time with him and my husband during the week. It was also a great honor to be selected as a Soldier-Hero."
The Soldier-Heroes spent several days before the game interacting with their player counterparts in events ranging from a skills competition that included a challenge of push ups, sit-ups and an eating competition, to a River Walk cruise, a barbeque and a special dinner honoring both heroes and players.
"I was able to meet a young high school all star from LaGrange, Ga., about 60 miles from where I live," said Sgt. 1st Class Brandon Fambro, a human resources NCO with a Georgia-based Army Reserve unit, who earned the Bronze Star during tours in Balad, Iraq, from 2005 to 2007. "The player, Chris Burnette, is a humble athlete who looks up to Soldiers and the military overall. As a Soldier-Hero, I hope that the players saw we exemplified all of the Army values of loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage."
Another Soldier-Hero, Sgt. Brandon Hasson, an infantryman with Alpha Company, 4th Battalion, 51st Infantry, Fort Drum, N.Y., was wounded in Iraq by an Improvised Explosive Device, receiving the Purple Heart during his last deployment. He says that many of the values he and his fellow Soldiers learn and develop in the Army can be used, not only on the gridiron, but throughout a person's life.
"I passed on to my player a true sense of personal courage and a sense of loyalty to his team, his family and most importantly to himself. Personal courage that gives him the knowledge that there's nothing that can stopping him from achieving anything he wants to achieve, and that when his career is over in high school, college or the pro's, he can make something out of whatever comes his way."