Sgt. Javier S. Amador
3rd Brigade Combat Team Journalist
The Syracuse University Football Team’s week of Army training at Fort Drum came to a memorable end Friday, with a paintball competition, where they paired up with Spartan Soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, bringing them one step closer to the completion of their preparations for their upcoming season.
According to Scott Schafer, head coach of the Syracuse University football team, one of the advantages that training at Fort Drum offers the team is doing without some of the daily comforts and the distractions they may present.
“You get away, you don’t have cell service, and all of a sudden, the kids look each other in the eye and are forced to communicate in a way that maybe they wouldn’t do so with all the social media getting in the way in this day and age,” he said. “So, that’s just one good example of the things that happen when we’re forced to be away from our normal environment.”
Shafer also mentioned how he and some of the players who have been on the team for a while paired up players who would not be familiar with each other, using veteran offensive lineman Ivan Foy and freshman quarterback Austin Wilson as one example.
The week began late in the afternoon Aug. 12 when former drill sergeants, who are now Spartan Soldiers assigned to the Catamount Battalion, met the athletes coming off their buses in true Army fashion. Wearing their trademark “Smokey” drill hats, the drill sergeants quickly surrounded the players and welcomed them as if it were their first day of basic training. It was the beginning of an experience where both the players and the Soldiers would find out what it is like to perform outside of their comfort zones.
The athletes and coaching staff participated in various training events, such as small unit leadership and problem solving as a group.
They also were treated to a static display, where they got an opportunity to see Army infantry weapons systems and vehicles up close.
Team members expressed their appreciation by playing a scrimmage game Thursday at Sligh Field. The game was free and open to the public.
Capt. Pearson Brantley, fire support officer for the Catamount Battalion, was assigned the daunting task of organizing the weeklong event. Brantley described how team members were made to work with each other in ways they normally would not.
“In the Army, our main focus is at the squad level, where that squad leader knows everything about the Soldiers in his squad and the team leaders who know everything about the Soldiers that are in their team,” he said. “What the coach did was take a quarterback or a running back and put them together with some defensive line guys into one squad, putting together players that rarely talk to each other.”
The situations the Syracuse University football players and staff faced as they went through the small unit training encouraged them to take their understanding of teamwork and apply it to situations where they had to solve practical problems.
“One of the things they had to do was a Light Medium Tactical (Vehicle) truck pull, where they had to move it 25 meters as well as move a bunch of fuel cans and boxes,” said Brantley, “and I would watch them come up with a plan and then tell each other what they had to do solve the problem.”
Brantley described another event: a simulated water crossing in which they had to come together and apply the lessons they had learned about small unit leadership and communication.
“We had a simulated water crossing,” he said. “They had to use two boards and some pliometrics boxes – the kind used for jumping on in the gym – and they had to figure out how to place them to get across, so they talked to each other and someone would direct who had to stand on one of the boxes and how to move the boards.”
Brantley also faced challenges of his own while planning the event. He described one of those challenges as “thinking about things I'm not used to thinking about. I, as an artillery officer, am always thinking about providing fire support for the battalion, so the hard part for me was thinking about the intricacies of football, like what is the coach going to need, what the team is going to need.”
Having had to work outside of their comfort zones has offered both players and Soldiers alike new learning opportunities. Both will aid in the days to come. For one team, that’s hopefully a bowl victory. For the other, that’s completing the mission ahead.