MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — It’s easy these days for Garrett Smith to walk proudly around Misawa Naval Air Facility in northern Japan, wearing his Naval Academy football roots on his sleeve.

More like his entire torso.

Smith, a lieutenant assigned to Misawa, plans to greet Sunday by donning his old Navy blue and gold-trim jersey No. 63 and sitting in front of a wide-screen television to view the annual Army-Navy game — even though the Armed Forces Network is to broadcast it live in Japan beginning at 6 a.m.

“I’m sure people will be laughing at me because I’ll be wearing my jersey. But it’s something that I haven’t outlived,” said Smith, 30, a native of Danville, Calif., who played center and guard for three years at Navy and was co-captain in 1995.

How times have changed.

During Smith’s three years, the Mids went 13-31 under coaches George Chaump and Charlie Weatherbie. Now, Navy (7-4) is enjoying its most successful season since 1996, is playing in a bowl game for the first time since that year and will capture its first Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy since 1981 with a victory over Army.

“That’s something I never got to experience,” Smith said. “That’s something the academies are well aware of and want to have in their house. It’s the symbol of the rivalry between the service academies.”

His Midshipmen pedigree, Smith says, has adhered throughout his eight years in service. He’s a collateral public affairs officer for Misawa Naval Air Facility and is a lineman for the U.S. Forces Japan-American Football League’s Misawa Marauders.

“Everywhere I’ve gone, it doesn’t take long for people to find out. It has defined me. I show up and it’s, ‘Oh, our football player has checked in.’ It’s what I’m known for,” he said.

“It is unlike any other game … because the service academies are different” from other universities, Smith said. “I was a systems engineer major. Many of my friends are aeronautical engineers. … And the military part of it is no joke, either. We aren’t going into the NFL. We’re all going into the military. Because we’re different, that’s what gives it special meaning.”

What Smith doesn’t know, precisely, is where he’s going to watch this year’s game.

“I may have to come in, move into somebody’s living room or the Officers’ Club,” he said. “But I’ll be watching it.”

author picture
Dave Ornauer has been employed by or assigned to Stars and Stripes Pacific almost continuously since March 5, 1981. He covers interservice and high school sports at DODEA-Pacific schools and manages the Pacific Storm Tracker.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up