Iowa Soldiers Cheer for Hawkeyes, Cyclones from Afar

By Mark Geary, Reporter

Staff Sgt. Daniel Westwater of Cedar Rapids with the Iowa National Guard's HHC Company, 2d Brigade Combat Team Headquarters shows off his Iowa Hawkeyes twin-sized blanket in the barracks at Camp Shelby on Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2010, near Hattiesburg, Miss. Westwater still had the set of sheets from his last deployment in Iraq in 2005. (Jim Slosiarek/SourceMedia Group News)

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By Aaron Hepker

CAMP SHELBY, Mississippi – Step inside any soldier living area at Camp Shelby and you're bound to come across black and gold pillows, blankets and even loofahs.

"They're real top contenders this year and we're going to miss it. But, hopefully, they'll keep it up for the next season when we get back home,” Spc. Brandon Berry of Tipton and serving with the 1-133 Bravo Company said.

When they're not training for missions, soldiers dream up ways to stay in touch with their favorite team, the Iowa Hawkeyes.

"We know it's going to be hard to watch the games being so far away,” Spc. Jarred Fleming of Stanley and serving with the 1-133 Bravo Company said. “It drives me a little crazy.”

Internet and cell phone access will be limited in Afghanistan. Yet, some troops have found a way around those obstacles.

1st Sgt. David Crowley of Iowa City and serving with the 1-133 Bravo Company said, "I have a secret contact. I've got a tentative promise from someone who's going to send the games to us on DVD."

The University of Iowa has received more than one-hundred emails and phone calls from soldiers and family members about this subject.

"We get a lot of correspondence from troops abroad and we appreciate their support. More importantly, we appreciate their efforts on our behalf. We live in the greatest country in the world and it doesn't come without a price,” Iowa Hawkeyes Head Football Coach Kirk Ferentz said.

University officials are working with all the major networks to make the games available overseas.

"I did have to remind the Big 10 Network that this is the largest deployment of Iowa soldiers since World War II and it really is significant for the University of Iowa. We must make an attempt to address this legitimate concern,” Associate Athletic Director Rick Klatt said.

In the past, troops have huddled around computer screens to watch games friends and family have mailed them on DVD. This time, Sgt. Randy Lacina of the 1-133 Bravo Company bought a mini-projector to make it easier for more soldiers to see the picture.

"Maybe, if we have a day off, we can all sit around, drink a couple of sodas and watch the games,” Lacina said. “We’ll all know the scores by then, but we’ll still sit around and watch ‘em.”

A few Cyclones did manage to sneak into this deployment, too. They display their red sheets, pillows and blankets with pride.

"Fortunately, I'm not alone. The bottom bunk guy is from Ames also. He's my neighbor. We stand strong here,” Sgt. 1st Class Heath Hove of the Headquarters and Headquarters Company 2/34 Infantry Brigade Combat Team said. “It brings some color to our room and makes things a little more enjoyable.”

Every soldier knows their time in Afghanistan will be stressful. However, football lifts their spirits, reminds them of home and gives them something to cheer about in an unfamiliar, dangerous place.

"I think there will be a lot of Iowa Hawkeye football parties in Afghanistan,” Crowley said.

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