ALL AMERICAN: Two Young Men, the 2001 Army-Navy Game and the War They Fought in Iraq by Steve Eubanks is a must read. The gripping tale follows the heroic lives of West Point cadet Chad Jenkins and midshipman Brian Stann who later became a Marine. What makes the book significant is that Jenkins and Stann were athletes who enlisted to play football during peacetime; yet, played in the most watched college game of the decade, in December 2001, while the Towers were still burning.
Ironically the only time these two met was during one play of the 2001 game when Army quarterback Jenkins ran up the middle to be tackled by linebacker Stann. The author, Eubanks, conveys the feelings of the time with a detailed description of the pre-game activities, the game itself, and the post-game activities. He commented to blackfive.net, “They had gone to play football for their respective academies. There was no war then, but that changed after 9/11. Even though there were other sports events between the time period of 9/11 and this game, these cadet athletes were different. None of the other athletes were going to serve in combat. People tuned in to see the players who would be fighting to defend Americans freedoms. I named the book All American, playing on the words. None of those football players who played in the Army-Navy rivalry that year would make the ‘All-American list.’ Yet, those guys are All Americans because what they did was heroic and they are quality individuals.”
Chad Jenkins jokingly noted that he has the notoriety of being the only QB to defeat Navy since that game. He thought it was awesome when a platoon of Rangers roped down from a Blackhawk and Chinook helicopter to assault the unlit bonfire, during a rally before the rivalry game. After football he decided to become a part of the 75th Ranger Brigade because he saw himself as a leader who would run towards trouble instead of away from it. He became a leader on the battlefield always trying to push the offensive posture, using action raids to assault the enemy. Chad stated, “Rangers do not react we initiate. The best defense is a great offense. I applied this in football and in combat.”
Although Brian Stann was a reserve football player he was an All-Star in combat, being awarded the Silver Star. Brian was influenced to go into the Marines because it suited his personality of being intense and serious. After enduring a bogus investigation into his conduct where he was found not guilty, he was assigned to fight in Iraq. It was there that he distinguished himself as a leader by risking his life when pulling his men out of a burning tank. Brian commented to blackfive.net, “It was a tough environment we were put into. There was no doctrine to deal with the insurgents and we developed one over time. It was hard because the enemy understood our rules and used them against us. It made for a very complex scenario.”
The book also describes how their time as an athlete helped them in combat situations. Brian felt “playing football helped me in becoming a warrior. When you are performing on the football field you must make split second decisions. There are assignments on every play. It helped me develop my leadership skills. We had to be accountable and had to deliver to the bottom line every single day. We had to execute drills and were held to a certain level as a team.” After football while waiting for redemption Brian trained to become a UFC fighter, combining boxing and martial arts. He felt this helped “me have an avenue for my emotions. It prepared me mentally for combat because I had a release for my mindset. After Iraq when I came home I had something to focus on. I even taught a course for my peers to help them with PTSD.”
Chad also feels that playing college football helped him to lead men in combat. “The training, the preparation, the practices, and the intensity of the game translated into being a military leader. It taught me to take one game at a time, which is what I did in Ranger school. Just as I had to coordinate and time a pass, in battle I used those skills when leading my men on an ambush of insurgents. Like a QB who depends on his offensive linemen I could never give enough credit to my buddies who I fought with. I will never forget one in particular, who paid the ultimate sacrifice, Kristoffer B. Domeji.”
Those fighting today are the true heroes of American society. Men like Brian Stann and Chad Jenkins embody that word. As the book describes they are the real “All Americans.” They are the role models that should be looked up to and admired for their sacrifice.