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Spc. Ryan McLane, left, and Staff Sgt. Fred Vestal were dressed for victory at Forward Operating Base Wilson in Iraq Monday morning, as the Boston soldiers watched the New England Patriots repeat as Super Bowl champions. (enw# 61p cs)

Spc. Ryan McLane, left, and Staff Sgt. Fred Vestal were dressed for victory at Forward Operating Base Wilson in Iraq Monday morning, as the Boston soldiers watched the New England Patriots repeat as Super Bowl champions. (enw# 61p cs) (Terry Boyd / S&S)

FORWARD OPERATING BASE WILSON, Iraq — Spc. Jones, take a letter.

To: The National Football LeagueFrom: Young American soldiers in the desertRe: The Super Bowl XXXIX halftime show

Take all that Super Bowl ad money and buy a clue.

“Where is Britney Spears?” asks Pfc. Joshua Payton, a 21-year-old 1st Infantry Division soldier from Ironton, Ohio, watching the halftime show at Forward Operating Base Wilson’s dining facility.

“That was whack,” says Staff Sgt. Jamie Riley, Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 1st Squadron, 4th U.S. Cavalry Regiment, as the last notes of “Live and Let Die” fade from the huge television.

“This is where you make a beer run,” Payton counters.

“Volunteer to make a beer run,” replies Riley. “I’d rather see the AFN ads!”

It’s hard enough getting up in the middle of the night, Iraq time, to watch football. Even the Super Bowl. So, when all they have is Red Bull and alcohol-free beer, soldiers need somebody besides Paul McCartney to party, especially for a low-scoring, defensive game.

At 7:32 into the third-quarter, Fox finally shows a close-up of a cheerleader, drawing a hoot from the crowd.

“That’s the best highlight of the whole game!” yells Staff Sgt. Douglas Darden, a 33-year-old 1st ID soldier from Fayetteville, Texas.

The refrain here at this small base outside Tikrit is, next year will be better.

Less Paul McCartney, more Britney Spears, says Payton. More beer, chicken wings, women, and, most importantly, sleep back in the real world instead of missions, mud and microwave popcorn fished out of care packages in a corner of the dining facility.

Yes, football is sacred, Payton says: “You’re not an American if you don’t watch the Super Bowl.” But, he adds, Wilson is “a working FOB,” where missions go out around the clock. And his duty day begins at 0800, Super Bowl Monday or not.

Strolling into the DFAC at 2:45 a.m., Riley shouts to the small, sleepy crowd, “Yeah, we gotta pajama party this morning.”

With many soldiers scheduled for dawn missions, “We’re going to be hurting tomorrow. Or today, I should say.”

Only about 35 soldiers out of more than 200 here got up before the chickens and made it to the dining facility for the game, especially with 1st ID troops preparing to return home to Schweinfurt, Germany, via Kuwait. Many of the rest watched it in their barracks.

Especially Philadelphia Eagles fans. It’s the sound of one man clapping when the Eagles get on the board first with a touchdown at 9:35 to go in the first quarter.

“Donovan McNabb is the best player in the league,” says Spc. Ray Simmons, 21, 1-4 Cav, who happens to share the same hometown with McNabb — Chicago.

Simmons sticks it out to the bitter end as the Eagles lose 24–21 to the Patriots.

Just how soldiers view the game goes far beyond winning and losing to whether they’re coming or going. Simmons and his 1st ID comrades are on their way home.

Representing the newly arrived National Guardsmen is the Boston contingent sitting right in front of the TV. The game was the same as last year — Pats win — when he was back home in Boston “minus the beer and women,” says Spc. Ryan McLane, 23.

These guys are hard-core fans, and McLane and Staff Sgt. Fred Vestal, 42, with the 42nd Infantry Division — attached to the 1st Squadron, 278th Regimental Combat Team out of Tennessee — are sporting Patriots headgear.

Homies Sgt. James Gallagher, 28, and Spc. Jose Perez, 24, round out the Boston foursome.

It’s a “fantastic” game, McLane says. The most fun since the Red Sox came back from three games down in October to beat the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series, Vestal says. The Red Sox would go on to win their first World Series in 86 years.

Ah, except now, it dawns on them they have 10 months left in Iraq, not to mention a year till the next Super Bowl.

“That was,” McLane says soberly as he watches Patriots players celebrating on the field, “all we had to look forward to.”

Then his face brightens — the BoSox’s first game is only six weeks away.


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