Nashville, TN – It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for Soldiers from medical units on Fort Campbell representing the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) during pregame ceremonies at Nissan Stadium before the NFL football game between the Tennessee Titans and New Orleans Saints, November 14th.
With much of the 101st Airborne Division spread across three states participating in a division-wide training exercise, Operation Lethal Eagle, leaders from the 101st extended the opportunity to medical units at Fort Campbell to represent the division during the Tennessee Titans Salute to Service event honoring veterans.
“Today is a great opportunity for our Soldiers to take a breather and enjoy some football and represent the 101st here at the game today to unfurl the flag and represent the United States Army,” said Col. Vincent B. Myers, Blanchfield Army Community Hospital commander. “I will tell you the Soldiers are excited to be here. They have been working so hard for so many months to fight COVID-19. It is a great break for them.”
During the live television broadcast, the honor guard presented the U.S and Army flags on the field and took their position at the 50 yard marker on the Titans’ sideline before a near capacity crowd in the 67,000-seat stadium. About 75 Soldiers from the medical units carried a 120-foot long American flag out of the stadium tunnel and onto the sideline near the Saints.
About 10 to 15 minutes passed from the time the Soldiers took the field until they had to unfurl the flag. During that time they stood ready, some in awe, as the crowd cheered amidst music, pyrotechnics, and fog machines that welcomed Titans and Saints cheerleaders, coaches and players to the field.
“It was pretty cool, especially when all the players came running onto the field. One of the players stopped at the front of our formation and said a prayer for us,” said Spc. Mason Wolf, a combat medic specialist who served as the non-commissioned officer in charge of Blanchfield’s COVID-19 vaccination site during its busiest months.
The stadium’s announcer recognized a number of distinguished veterans in attendance for the game while players on the field offered Soldiers the occasional fist bump. Then, it was go time. The announcer said each unit’s name as they moved into position on the center of the field for the playing of the national anthem.
Just as they had practiced that morning the Soldiers unfurled the massive flag and held it taut, while Nashville-recording artists Thompson Square, sang the Star-Spangled Banner. When the performers reached the lyric “wave” before the last line of the anthem, the Soldiers raised and lowered the massive flag to create a waving motion just as the formation from the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade flew over the stadium. At that point the crowd erupted into cheers.
“It was a great experience feeling the motivation, feeling the excitement. Most of us have never done this before so being in the spotlight, it honestly felt really good and makes you proud to wear this uniform,” said participant Cpl. Anthony Tease, from the DENTAC. Tease and other DENTAC Soldiers have supported COVID response efforts by administering COVID-19 vaccines, freeing up medics and nurses to support patient care.
A Soldier from the SRU, who supported the hospital during the busiest periods of the pandemic taking on non-medical functions, like operating entry control points, lent a hand Sunday unfurling the flag.
“There was wind and I think the Soldier to my left actually got raised off the ground just a little bit, but we caught it,” said Sgt. 1st Class Brian Hartbarger, a military police Soldier who serves as a platoon sergeant at the SRU.
After the pregame ceremony, the Soldiers took their seats in the stadium, courtesy of the Titans, and enjoyed the game. During half-time, the Tennessee Titans welcomed Blanchfield’s command team, Col. Vincent B. Myers, and Command Sgt. Maj. Daniel Santiago, and Col. Travis Habhab, 101st CAB commander, and Chief Warrant Officer 5 Steve Dermer, 101st CAB command chief warrant officer to a bandstand near the end zone where they received a commemorative game ball on behalf of their Soldiers.
“This is an amazing opportunity for our Soldiers who don’t often get to participate in events like this,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Daniel Santiago, Blanchfield’s senior enlisted leader. “For almost two years our Soldiers have been dealing with the pandemic and everything that goes along with it. This a great opportunity to take a break and get out in our community.”
Blanchfield Army Community Hospital and other medical units on Fort Campbell support the medical readiness of Soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division while serving as a ready medical force for the division and the Army.