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JBLM Soldier participates in pre-game challenges to energize All-American Bowl atmosphere

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SAN ANTONIO - Drill sergeants barked orders and words of encouragement to motivate 90 of the top-ranked high school football players and 125 band members from around the nation as they competed Jan. 2 in a number of events including relay races, pushups, sit-ups and a food-eating contest.

Although these and other challenges were an exciting part of the pre-All-American Bowl East-West team competitions at the Sunset Station Pavilion in San Antonio, Texas, the most important part of the week's activities were interactions between the high school seniors and about 50 soldier heroes, many of whom were wounded in combat, and all of whom had received awards for valor.

"This seems to be a great event, seeing the intermingling of soldiers and young people getting ready to start their lives," said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jerrod Frank, echoing the sentiments of fellow soldier heroes.

"It was an honor to be here," said Spc. Heidi Olson, who is stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. "I really enjoy interacting with the kids, talking to them and passing on some of the life skills we learned in our job. They seem to appreciate that and were eager to hear about my own experiences."

Olson, herself not too many years older than the students, already had lived a lifetime of challenges and adventures after graduating from college and then deciding to enlist in the Army. She was in Afghanistan from 2011 to 2012 and said the kids enjoyed hearing about her adventures. She hopes their talks will help influence the youngsters in positive ways.

Student athlete Tahan Goodman, from California, said he "loves interaction with soldier heroes." Goodman has decided to attend college and get a football scholarship.

"I won't be joining the Army," he said, "but I do admire the soldiers. I know now that they really go through a lot and am grateful for the things they do for us."

"They're loving it and I'm loving it. It's just great talking to the players and band members. We're all excited to be here and we're making friends," said Sgt. 1st Class Peter Ruiz.

The excitement even wore off on the event organizers.

"The interaction of the kids with the soldier heroes is extraordinary. They're all making a lot of friendships that I'm sure will last," said AAB organizer Kelly Donahue.

Donahue helped organizers with the selection of students for the AAB.

"All-American Bowl is our signature event," said Matt Leas, chief of Marketing Integration for the Army Marketing and Research Group, Alexandria, Va.

"The game itself is the culmination of a year-long program that opens doors for recruiters, allowing them access to high schools across the nation to spread the word that the Army is a good organization to join and that soldiers are doing great things for our country," he added.

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