Purple Heart recipient aids Freeport football with boot camp training

| Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2012, 11:53 p.m.

Marine Cpl. Cameron Betush drove over some of the most dangerous roads in the world, and the 22-year-old member of the reserves has a Purple Heart medal to prove it.

This week, his path led him to much safer territory — his old stomping grounds at Freeport High School's football practice field.

Betush, a Sarver resident, and seven other Marines are directing a preseason conditioning “boot camp” for the Yellowjackets. The workouts, which conclude Thursday, run from about 7 to 8 a.m. and feature team-building drills such as pulling Humvees.

“It's awesome,” Betush said. “If the kids get something from this, it's time well spent. When the Marines are here, they know it is business time. We're not trying to recruit. We just want them to learn about the Marine Corps and be better football players.”

Betush understands the dangers of serving in the armed forces.

Last September, Betush was lead driver in a large convoy when his armored fighting vehicle struck a 120-pound homemade bomb. All occupants, including three other Marines and an interpreter, survived the blast. But doctors diagnosed each with a traumatic brain injury, and one solider suffered a shattered heel, according to Betush.

“The only thing is I still get headaches, and my short-term memory isn't that good,” Betush said. “I'm horrible at names and numbers.”

Betush enrolled in the Marines his junior year of high school. As a senior in 2007, he emerged as one of Freeport's top running backs, and the Yellowjackets finished 5-4 overall. Three days after graduating in 2008, he departed for boot camp at Parris Island, S.C.

In January 2011, Betush, a motor transport specialist in the 2nd Marine Division/8th Regiment, was deployed to a base in southwestern Afghanistan and assigned to train Afghan National Army soldiers in vehicle operation and maintenance.

He often was required to leave base and made two 1,200-mile convoys during his year in the war zone. Enemy fighters regularly attacked with improvised explosive devices and AK-47s.

“I've always respected anybody in the service,” senior running back Damon Smith said. “They put their life on the line for us. And after the workout, I have even more respect for them. It was intense, and they were all up in our face. But that makes it fun.”

Betush returned to the U.S. in January and completed active duty, re-enlisting as a reserve in June. He qualified for the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill and plans to attend Indiana (Pa.) University and major in criminology this fall.

Betush also continues to serve with Sarver Volunteer Fire Co.

He became a firefighter in high school and helped out there when on leave from the military.

“A lot of the kids know him and saw him play as a senior,” Freeport coach John Gaillot said. “They know what he did for our country and what he earned and went through. It's a nice touch for him to be here.”

Paul Kogut is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-224-2696 or pkogut@tribweb.com.

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