Sun Bowl players get 'unreal' Army experience, meet Fort Bliss soldiers
By DAVID BURGE | El Paso Times, Texas (Tribune News Service) | Published: December 27, 2017
North Carolina State football player Fredrick Strickland turned into a big kid when he got to visit Fort Bliss as part of Sun Bowl week.
“This is awesome,” said Strickland, a junior linebacker from Clinton, N.C. “I grew up loving Army movies. My dad and I have been watching them since I was little. This is so unreal — to see the real thing, to see what is in the movies.”
Wednesday, both Sun Bowl teams visited Fort Bliss, the home of the 1st Armored Division.
Arizona State and North Carolina State players took turns visiting two different simulator training areas — one that simulates weapons and the other how the Abrams tank and Bradley Fighting Vehicle operate.
Players also got to climb all over and take pictures on static displays of Army equipment — an Apache attack helicopter, a Bradley, an Abrams tank and the Patriot air-defense system, among others.
The two teams will face off in the 84th annual Hyundai Sun Bowl at 1 p.m. on Friday.
But first, players are experiencing El Paso to its fullest. And of course, that means a stop at one of the nation’s largest military facilities.
Col. Mike Hester, the chief of staff for the 1st Armored Division, said Fort Bliss and the Sun Bowl have had a partnership going back about 20 years.
“This is a win-win,” Hester said. “It is a chance to showcase our Army to the folks in the local community and to two teams that come from across the country."
“It is a chance to show off our superb soldiers, what we do here and more importantly, show them what their Army is all about,” Hester added.
The football players got a chance to interact with tankers, infantry soldiers and other soldiers who do various jobs “that make our Army as good as it is,” Hester said.
Danny Blakeman, a freshman defensive end for North Carolina State, said it was “pretty impressive” to see Army vehicles and equipment up close.
“You see it on TV and in the movies,” said Blakeman, from Raleigh, N.C. “Seeing it in person is completely different. Their equipment is massive. It is awesome that the military — everyone here in El Paso — has the hospitality to let us come out here and show us around and show us what they do."
“I appreciate everything the troops do for us,” Blakeman added.
Eurndraus Bryant, a junior defensive tackle with North Carolina State, said visiting Fort Bliss gave him a greater appreciation for his father, who served in the Army.
“A lot of my teammates have never been close to a tank and haven’t been able to sit on top of one and take pictures,” said Bryant, from Charleston, S.C. “Secondly, I know my dad retired from the Army. It is good to see what he was around for all those years.”
The trip to Fort Bliss was another adventure and part of a memorable trip to the Sun Bowl and El Paso, Bryant said.
“You get to experience different things and see what the world is like,” Bryant said.
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Arizona State and North Carolina State football players in El Paso, Texas, for the Sun Bowl took turns visiting two different simulator training areas at Fort Bliss — one that simulates weapons and the other how the Abrams tank and Bradley Fighting Vehicle operate.
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