Ohio National Guard News

Football fans cheer hometown heroes:
Ohio National Guard members support, get recognition
during Cleveland Browns' military appreciation game

Story and photos by Sgt. Chad Menegay, 196th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

Sgt. First Class Tony Patterson, an Ohio Army National Guard recruiter out of Cleveland, encourages a boy to do push-ups
Nov. 13, 2011, in front of Cleveland Browns Stadium prior to the military appreciation game against the St. Louis Rams.

Spc. William Taylor

Spc. William Taylor (right), a combat engineer with the 112th Engineer Battalion out of Brook Park, Ohio, helps hold up an oversized American flag, as part of the pregame ceremony.

Staff Sgt. Michael Healey with Chomps

Staff Sgt. Michael Healey, a drill sergeant with Company A, Ohio Army National Guard Recruiting and Retention Battalion, stands toe-to-toe with Cleveland Browns' mascot Chomps.

Cleveland Browns' military appreciation game Nov. 13, 2011,

Ohio National Guard members hold an oversized American flag and await to take the field at halftime, as part of the Cleveland Browns' military appreciation game Nov. 13, 2011, at Browns Stadium in downtown Cleveland.

Army Spc. Chanel Curry

Army Spc. Chanel Curry waves to a crowd of 65,000, as she finishes the national anthem while Ohio National Guard Soldiers and Airmen man an oversized American flag as part of pregame festivities during the Browns military appreciation game against the St. Louis Rams.

CLEVELAND — It is a surrealistic feeling one gets while unfurling an oversized American flag shaped like the U.S. in front of about 65,000 fans at a National Football League stadium, back home after a tour in the Hindu Kush Mountains near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

That is how several members of the 112th Engineer Battalion, out of Brook Park, Ohio, a few months removed from war and perhaps the most dangerous place on earth for Americans, described the scene, standing as heroes before clapping compatriots Nov. 13 at Cleveland Browns Stadium.

As part of the National Football League's "Salute to Service" campaign, the Browns honored U.S. military personnel with recognition during pregame, at the end of the first quarter and halftime as part of their game against the St. Louis Rams.

Those honored included Purple Heart Medal recipients Staff Sgts. Catherine Doerr and Brandon Behney, and Bronze Star Medal recipients 1st Lt. Garland Fleming Jr. and Staff Sgt. Sonia Kellom, all members of the 112th.

The crowd gave service members several standing ovations, characteristic of the way U.S. military personnel have been received at home over the last decade of war.

"It's about recognizing the 1 percent (of the American population) who wear a uniform and are willing to sacrifice their lives for what our Constitution stands for," said Sgt. Jeff Sterling, a Cleveland Heights, Ohio, native, who drove a Freightliner semi-truck on combat logistics patrols in Afghanistan for the 112th.

According to some of the Soldiers, military appreciation events may help the average citizen better understand the sacrifices service members have made overseas.

"I don't think the general public will ever completely understand what our guys go through day in and day out over there," said Staff Sgt. Erick Browning, an instructor with the 147th Regional Training Institute, and Akron, Ohio, native, who deployed as a combat engineer with the 112th. "It does, however, put us out in the public, where they know they can approach and ask us questions. The more they see us, the more approachable we may be to them."

No matter how many questions are answered, it might never be possible to understand fully what's been happening overseas until you're deployed like the 112th was, to somewhere like Forward Operating Base Sharana, Afghanistan.

"It's tough to wrap your mind around," Sterling said, "driving around outside of the wire and knowing that an IED (improvised explosive device) might kill you. You might not talk to anybody the next day. You might lose an arm. You might come back with no eyesight. It's a concept that's really hard to grasp."

Sterling said that a filtered version of the war is on television in the evening.

"So they can visually see what's happening," Sterling said, "but, nobody can really know what we go through, until they can sit in the driver's seat or experience getting shot at by somebody. It's like riding a roller coaster; you never know what it's like until you ride it."

Regardless of how deep the understanding, members of the 112th said they were grateful for the appreciation from the Browns organization and the fans in attendance.

"We're not owed anything; we do it because we enjoy it, but it's nice to get the public display of (gratitude)," Browning said.

The majority of Americans would like to understand, Sterling said, "despite not literally knowing what we've been through, they support us regardless."