Soldiers mentor players in high school bowl game

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Associated Press

Posted on January 4, 2013 at 7:32 PM

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A group of U.S. Army Special Operations soldiers from Fort Campbell, Ky., serving as mentors to some of the nation's top high school football players found out there are a lot of similarities between the young athletes and the combat-experienced troops.

The soldiers were matched up with high school students selected to play in this Saturday's U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio, an annual all-star game for the nation's top high school recruits. The soldiers spent the last couple of days with the players while they prepared for the game in Texas.

The bowl game is sponsored by the U.S. Army and players get matched up with soldiers from around the country. Many of these players were top recruits for major college football teams and primed for success, which made them a good match for the Special Operations soldiers, who all have been given valor medals for their actions under fire.

Master Sgt. Peter Sims, of the 5th Special Forces Group, said in a phone interview Friday that the student he was mentoring, quarterback Hayden Rettig, from Pasadena, Calif., was curious about the role of Special Forces in the Army and what they do. Sims was the senior medic and assault team leader during a deployment to Iraq in 2003 when he helped pull two injured soldiers to safety during a firefight. He received a Bronze Star with Valor.

"He would definitely fit in," Sims said of Rettig. "He's the kind of individual where he is not only physical, but there's also the mental aspect behind it. When you are in Special Operations, when we are doing our training, we have to stay focused."

Staff Sgt. Marshall Brown, of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, offered some advice to Tre'Davious White, of Shreveport, La., who is playing tight end in Saturday's game. Brown said White is very close to his family in Louisiana and was unsure about the transition to college.

"We discussed that and I told him that the best thing he could do for himself is just trust his instinct, stay close to his family, keep those bonds, because that is the biggest thing that makes a person," Brown said.

Brown said his job working on one of the Army's most elite helicopter units is mostly normal, except for the times when they are given the opportunity to do something very special and important. Brown received an Air Medal with Valor device for his actions in Afghanistan when his helicopter came under attack. Brown gave cover fire for other helicopters that were picking up troops on the ground.

Staff Sgt. Aaron Eichhorn, also of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, said he was very impressed with the level of training and skill of the young high school players and said it was pretty similar to the training that he's experienced in the Army.

"For example, they work long hours, hard training. They are out there hungry, cold, wet, and we are the same way. We work long hours, and the training for us is very intense," Eichhorn said.

Eichhorn was awarded the Air Medal with Valor device for his actions in Afghanistan. While serving as the door gunner and crew chief on a Black Hawk helicopter, Eichhorn used a machine gun to allow his helicopter to land under fire so a crew could evacuate a casualty.

He was mentoring Al-Quadine Muhammad, a defensive end from Newark, N.J., who plans to study criminal justice in college. Eichhorn said he hoped to stay in touch with Muhammad through his college career.

"The first thing he wanted to do when we met was take a picture and he uploaded it on Facebook," Eichhorn said. "I am sure that we will stay in contact via email."

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On the Web:

U.S. Army All-American Bowl: http://www.usarmyallamericanbowl.com/

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Follow Kristin Hall on Twitter at http://twitter.com/kmhall

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