Titans Visit With Soldiers, Families at Fort Campbell

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FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. —** The Tennessee Titans concluded their 2009 Caravan tour with a heart-felt trip to Fort Campbell, Ky., home of the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division and the 160th S.O.A.R.(A), visiting with soldiers and families of those currently serving the United States overseas. 

Fort Campbell, located on the Kentucky/Tennessee border between Hopkinsville, Ky. And Clarksville, Tenn., supports the third-largest military population in the Army and the seventh-largest in the Department of Defense.

The 101st Airborne Division is a rapid deployment division trained to go anywhere in the world in 36 hours. The 101st Airborne Screaming Eagles stationed at Fort Campbell are members of the only air assault division in the world, and use helicopters as the primary means of transportation for the division.

The 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment’s mission is to organize, equip, train, resource and employ Army special operations aviation forces worldwide in support of contingency missions and warfighting commanders. Known as Night Stalkers, these Soldiers are recognized for their proficiency in nighttime operations. They are highly trained and ready to accomplish the very toughest missions in all environments, anywhere in the world, day or night, with unparalleled precision. They employ highly modified Chinook, Black Hawk and assault and attack configurations of Little Bird helicopters.  Soldiers of the 160th have been actively and continuously engaged in the combat operations since October 2001.

Reminiscing on their military backgrounds, the players felt a strong bond with the soldiers and the opportunity to represent the Titans on base.     

"So much of it is saying thank you," said Mawae, whose father served 23-years in the military. "We look up to soldiers, just as much as they look up to us."

An informal, cordial welcome started the day at the Engagement Skills Trainer Marksmanship Facility. It was a moment that tested the players' shooting skills, using a variety of guns. The facility is used to teach soldiers the proper safety techniques and skills needed to fire all weapon types, ranging from M16 rifles to MK19 40mm grenade machines, on a simulated target range.

Upon completion of the Collective Training activity, a sense of egocentrism fell on the faces of some rookie shooters; after reading a sign of conformation on a visual display that read, "Congratulations, You Are a Qualified Turkey Shooter!"

Steve Coderre, a four-year retiree in the Army who currently instructs the training, was thrilled to guide the players, cheerleaders, and Titans' staff on the fundamentals of shooting effectively.

"You could be here Monday through Friday, everyday for eight hours and still not see all of what we have to offer in these shooting activities," Coderre said.

It was the visit to the Blanchfield Army Community Hospital (BACH) that unlocked compassion from the Titans, as they were able to spent time with soldiers receiving occupational and physical therapy from injuries sustained in battle. The soldiers, known as "Warriors in Transition," appeared quite optimistic while enduring painful injuries.

Warrant Officer I Jeremy Drage of Tucson, Ariz. was rehabbing from a foot surgery when Titans players entered the room; soothing his aches with an icepack.

"Having the players come out and see us gives me something else to think about while being in here," Drage said. "I got a chance to go to two of the games this year…I just really appreciate all that they do for the community."

Public Affairs Officer of BACH Laura Boyd was elated that the Titans Caravan finished the tour with a return visit to Fort Campbell, KY.

"This is an incredible opportunity for our soldiers and patients to interact with the players," Boyd said. 

God-fearing Staff Sergeant Jonny R. Fitzpatrick of Ripely, Tenn. was rehabbing from a total knee replacement, as he felt the Titans' humble spirits through his brief moment meeting them.
"They are humans just like us," Fitzpatrick said. "They know life gets rough for us all, and it hasn't been easy for some of them. I'm glad they decided to stop in today."

Fitzpatrick has dedicated 22 years in the army and in his perspective, fighting for his country was well-worth signing the contract, regardless of the risk.

"The Lord already has our life written out," Fitzpatrick said. "There is no age when it comes to death."

Players, including Hall, were quick to admit the valuable lessons that can be obtained while serving in the military. Hall served four years in U.S. Marine Corps as a Sergeant, and was deployed to Afghanistan. He attributes a significant amount of his character to his experience in the U.S. Marines.

"I chose to join the U.S. Marines to seek discipline and direction that I needed, Hall said." It has led me to my being success in the NFL."

Cramer made his second appearance on base with the Caravan.

"I came out last year and had a blast," Cramer said, who marked the Titans' Caravan trip on his calendar a couple of months ago.

The fun and excitement continued during lunch at the 5th Special Forces Group dining facility. "Voice of the Titans" Mike Keith expressed honor to the soldiers by presenting a Titans helmet autographed by Cramer, Hall, Mawae, and the Cheerleaders. Colonel Clayton Hutmacher, Commander of the 160th Special Operations, gratefully accepted the recognition from Keith.
Staff Sergeant Benjamin Woodruff, a native of Van Wert, Ohio, sat at the table with Casey during lunch.

Although he was surprised to see all the players, he acknowledged that it was not his first time seeing a Titans players; consequently, Woodruff remained relax, but had a story to tell.

"This is my 12th year in the military," Woodruff said. "I knew that I didn't want to work in one of the hundreds of factories, or become a farmer like a lot of people in Van Wert, so I decided to serve my country and join the army."

"I give respect to the players," Woodruff said, who received the Phillip A. Connelly Award for Excellence in Army Food Service in 2008."They are true role models."

After mingling with the troops during lunch, the Titans visited with players from the Fort Campbell High School football team, after winning the State Championship two-consecutive years.

Each player shared their personal story of how they made it to the NFL. The FCHS players were inspired by the heart-felt encouragement of the Titans and had multiple questions relating to the NFL. Titans players instilled the importance of making the most of their opportunities, studying hard in school, and transitioning their dreams into reality. Much of the words shared reiterated the principles that were branded on a banner in the cafeteria that read, "RESPECT."

"It's always good to hear the Titans each year when they come out to speak to the guys," Fort Campbell head football coach Shawn Berner said. "Their message is always something that can benefit the guys during the season and through the off-season."

Afterwards, the players received their final welcomes of the day at the Army and Airforce  Exchange Service, also known as the PX. The 160,000 square foot facility is the largest military PX in the world. With yells and screams, the Titans entered the PX waving and smiling at the fans, who were lined up anxiously awaiting to get autographed footballs, posters and bumper stickers.

Beth Goodman, Store Manager, paced the floor of the PX, making sure all the fans' needs were met and that they were getting the autographs and pictures to complete their  memorable moments with the Titans.

"This is the second year I have done this, and it's a great community event," Goodman said. "We are gearing up for another year and we'll have a whole section just for Titans apparel."

The Titans 2:30 p.m arrival created an upbeat atmosphere throughout the store, unlike a typical shopping day at the PX.

"This is not a peak shopping time, but people definitely are buying more today because of the Titans," Goodman said. "Our busy hours are normally during lunch time from 11 to 1."

Among the many faces was Lois Tripp, a die-heard Titans fan who was present with her 8-month old grandson, Joshua. Originally from Texas, she moved to Fort Campbell in 1986 with her husband, who retired five years ago.

"You should see my car outside. I've got a Nissan Titan pick-up truck just because it has 'Titan' on it," Tripp said. "I've traveled during the Caravan to Springfield and Dickson, and I'm looking forward to Kyle Vanden Bosch's Draft Party on Saturday."

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