National Guard gets gridiron exposure
As the Steelers face off against the Miami Dolphins on Aug. 20, four Pennsylvania Army National Guard recruiters will be present to represent an even bigger fight.
The men will serve as the color guard at the game, marching with rifles and American and Pennsylvania flags during the pregame show at Heinz Field. They also will watch the 7:30 p.m. preseason game from sideline seats, said Spc. Carl Duda, a recruiter for the 103rd tank battalion, based in Connellsville.
The Steelers were unable to fulfill Duda's request for a football player to stand at recruiting tables during county fairs this summer, he said.
Instead, they invited the National Guard to serve as color guard during the preseason game.
"It gives me chills when I hold the flag," Duda said. "And to be in front of that many people and present the flag, it's just an honor."
The men hope their role in this event will boost recruitment.
"Unfortunately, the guard doesn't have quite the marketing funds that the other branches have, so any chance we get to get out in the public eye is a good thing," said Sgt. 1st Class Ernest Nicholson, also based with the 103rd tank battalion in Connellsville.
Recently, Duda has seen more veterans returning to service than new, younger members joining.
"Recruiting has been slow across the country," Duda said, "mainly because people don't understand our motives over there."
With the 70,000 fans expected to be at the game and others watching on TV, Duda said he hopes the public's interest and involvement will be raised.
Duda said that encouraging letters from the U.S. are appreciated by troops overseas.
"If you chose not to support the president or the war, appreciation for the troops should at least be there, because they are risking their lives every day," Duda said.
The recruiters will be some of the first in the nation to model the new Army combat uniform, which replaces Vietnam War-era camouflage.
This advanced uniform will enhance fighting in any environment, Duda said. It will be issued to troops beginning service Oct. 1 and will outfit the forces entirely by 2007.
The color guard will consist of Duda and Nicholson, both of the Connellsville 103rd tank battalion, and Master Sgt. James Sales and Staff Sgt. Jeremy Rohana of the 110th infantry, headquartered in Mt. Pleasant.