Column: "The Sports Trail": Sports and war blend, but soldiers need most support

Wednesday, April 9, 2003

by David McNeal

By the time you read this, the NCAA will have crowned its 2003 National Basketall Champion, which was either Kansas or Syracuse. If you get a paper on Tuesday, you'll be ready to find out if Tennessee or Connecticut takes the Women's NCAA title that night.

And if you have a loved one in the most current conflict in Iraq, you'll be sitting on pins and needles, wondering just what is going on, and if that loved one is safe.

There is the strangest blend of life going on in our country right now. Sports of all types are going their merry way, while soldiers from our country are on dangerous ground, risking their lives in the U.S.A.'s latest conflict.

It's an old story, and a familiar one at my house. I should say, my parents' house. My father was a career military man who fought in WWII and Korea. He got out before Vietnam, and was very uncomfortable watching that war through the evening news on television.

It brought back bad memories of being far away and lonely, of the fear of injury or death, and the pain of leaving loved ones.

I don't watch much of this war, remembering his pain and those of war-time friends that came to visit. But I do watch the local stations and the job they are doing, reporting on our soldiers as they leave, and on those who are left behind.

Like most of us, I really don't like having to send our troops to another place, this one halfway around the world. I recognize our leaders felt the action was necessary, but the best I can do is funnel all my support to the people who are doing the fighting.

It came home hard about a week ago when a reporter interviewed a Berryville man who was shipping out at Fort Smith. His daughter was by his side, soaking up a precious last few moments with Dad.

It was Kent Villines, and his daughter, Keresa. She plays volleyball and softball at Berryville High School, and I see her a lot. It was hard on her when he was sent to Fort Smith to guard the airport and only came home on weekends. He didn't get to see her games.

Now he's gone, full-time.

I watched the brief interview and heard the same story told by soldiers for generations: "Got a job to do. We'll go and do it, then get back home as soon as possible."

While the NCAA games were going on this past weekend, troops entered Baghdad. While Dale Earnhardt was winning the Aaron's 499 at Talladega, bombs were falling. While the Arkansas Razorback football team was running its last scrimmage of the spring season, troops were running into Baghdad airport.

And while PGA golfer Ben Crane fired an eagle on the last hole and won the BellSouth Classic by four strokes, the 101st Screaming Eagles were firing live ammo in Iraq.

The war even touched the Eureka Springs Prom last Saturday, as a former grad showed up in his military uniform. He was all duded up last year. This year, it was all business.

Whether you support the war or not, the people who have gone to do this job need all the support we can give. Care packages, letters, even little newspaper clippings about normal life back here give soldiers far from home something to hang on to.

Then there are the homecomings. Let's not forget they are coming back and need to feel welcomed when they do. They're doing an unpleasant but necessary job that they didn't pick ---- for us.

Being respected for that when they return is the least we can do.

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