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Sgt. 1st Class Michael McGuire, with the Company A, 40th Engineer Battalion, points at an explosive found by his unit last year near Ramadi, Iraq. McGuire wrote dispatches from Iraq for Peter King's column on Sports Illustrated's Website.

Sgt. 1st Class Michael McGuire, with the Company A, 40th Engineer Battalion, points at an explosive found by his unit last year near Ramadi, Iraq. McGuire wrote dispatches from Iraq for Peter King's column on Sports Illustrated's Website. (Photo courtesy of Sgt. 1st Class Michael McGuire)

One day, Mike McGuire did what any good sports fan with some money in his pocket would do: He headed for the stadium and bought the best ticket available.

Eight rows behind the dugout at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, he wound up sitting next to Peter King, the famed Sports Illustrated writer and TV football analyst.

“I knew who he was right away, because of his voice,” said McGuire, sergeant 1st class of the Baumholder, Germany-based Company A, 40th Engineer Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Divison. “But I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to bother him.”

In the fourth inning as the Cardinals played the Florida Marlins, the sportswriter turned to McGuire to say hello. Their conversation in June 2005 started a friendship that led to McGuire contributing to King’s weekly columns at the Sports Illustrated Web site, inspiring thousands of readers.

“I found out he was a soldier,” King said. “We started talking about Iraq, about what he did. It was the most dangerous job as a soldier; I was impressed.”

They traded e-mail addresses, and when McGuire’s unit deployed to the war zone, his e-mails to King started running at the bottom of King’s “Monday Morning Quarterback” column.

For a year, King’s readers were updated on the exploits of McGuire’s unit, which eventually was based at Camp Blue Diamond in Ramadi. There, McGuire and his soldiers combed Route Mobile for roadside bombs.

McGuire’s e-mails started out lightly, like this one that ran in King’s column in November 2005:

“Mr. King, the day is here. We’re out of here in a matter of hours, bound for Kuwait and Iraq. Don’t really know what to say, because I don’t want the last few hours to be sad. So we just go on like a regular day, except this day will last 365 days at least.”

Throughout the year, McGuire wrote about his work and his soldiers. There was a Pfc. Jewell, Spc. Brezinski and others. There were no first names, because in Iraq, especially, a soldier’s rank is his first name.

Ten months into the deployment, McGuire wrote an e-mail about Sgt. Allan R. Bevington, who was killed on Sept. 21 by an explosive after getting out of his vehicle. When news of it ran in King’s column, more than 1,000 readers sent e-mails of condolence to King, who forwarded them to McGuire and his unit.

One example: “I’ve never skipped through the first part of your column to get to the item about Mike McGuire’s men, but I did so this morning with a sense of dread and foreboding. I now wipe the tears from my eyes after what I have just read. God bless Sgt. Bevington, his family, Mike and all his men.” — Doug Kelly, Sacramento.

“I by far got more mail about Mike McGuire than any single topic I’ve written about,” King said. “It’s not even close. Not just military people, but people in general were touched by this.

“I think people in America viewed Mike as a hero.”

McGuire’s next few dispatches, such as this one from October, were somber:

“I do find myself thinking ‘Just be safe’ and ‘Do nothing to risk anyone’s health.’ But that is not how the guys operate. They would change nothing of how they operate every day. I have to live with the fact that one of my guys is gone for good and two are hurt bad, and that eats me up inside more than I can explain.”

Like a lot of troops, McGuire, a father of five, did not talk much shop with his wife, Pam, while he was downrange. Pam McGuire said she saw another side of her husband through King’s columns.

“He didn’t really tell me a lot of the things he shared with Peter,” Pam McGuire said. “Our conversations weren’t filled the different things that happened; rather, he wanted to find out what was happening with the family.

“Sometimes I would ask him and he’d say, ‘We’ll talk about it when I get home.’”

For King, McGuire’s dispatches were important because they connected his readers to what was happening half a world away.

“Too many people in America live in cocoons,” King said. “They see there is a war going on, but they don’t really feel it.

“Sitting next to Mike that night (at the stadium), I felt the power of what this war is about, and how dangerous it was.”

McGuire is back in Baumholder training another platoon and expects to deploy again in a year. He said his soldiers were heartened by King’s interest.

“We’re not just a number out there fighting,” McGuire said. “If someone is actually trying to know what we did and find out what it was all about, it makes a difference to us.”

To read Peter King’s entries about McGuire and his unit, visit here.

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