Team USA salutes servicemembers
Stars and Stripes August 18, 2006
CAMP CASEY, South Korea — The decibels at Carey Gym may well have exceeded the nearby helicopter pad’s noise levels when Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James saluted and posed for about 1,000 servicemembers Wednesday.
James and his Team USA teammates received rousing ovations when they stepped onto the court and saluted the servicemembers. The applause continued as players practiced dunks and drilled against each other during a team scrimmage.
“It’s a great experience for us to have today,” James said after the scrimmage. “For us, we’re (in Asia) for 35 days … but the soldiers here are making a much bigger sacrifice.”
Seeing the players up close at practice was a dream come true for soldiers such as Spc. Bilitis Rangel of Area I’s headquarters company. Rangel got autographs from coach Mike Krzyzewski, assistant coach Johnny Dawkins and the Denver Nuggets’ Carmelo Anthony. She also went to one of the exhibition games in Seoul, where the team easily beat Lithuania and South Korea in warm-up matches for the 2006 FIBA World Championship in Japan beginning Saturday.
“This was amazing. We needed this to lift our morale,” Rangel said. “I’m also glad that they recognized us defending the country so that they can play ball.”
The team held a similar practice at Yongsan Garrison in Seoul on Monday.
Players echoed themes of support for the servicemembers and their sacrifices. Just as many of the soldiers wear the jerseys of their favorite athletes, the players wore Army uniforms to show their admiration for the soldiers. A few even wore rank patches, such as the Miami Heat’s “Lt. Col.” Dwayne Wade.
“We mean it as a sign of respect,” Krzyzewski said. “It’s such an honor for us to wear the fatigues.”
The gesture wasn’t lost on many of the servicemembers who considered themselves lucky to get off duty for the exhibition.
“I’m really grateful,” said Staff Sgt. Von Kittrell of Area I headquarters company. “With as busy as they are, it means a lot.”