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High School Football Star Gives Prized Deployment Gift
By Staff Sgt. Michael Appleby
Mar 29, 2011 - 5:20:52 PM
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Blackanthem Military News

High school lineman Landon Turner poses with Soldiers from the 40th Combat Aviation Brigade, 8th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, 229th Aviation Regiment at the Alamodome in San Antonio. Turner played for the East team in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in January.(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Appleby)
CAMP TAJI, Iraq - Soldiers from the 8th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, 229th Aviation Regiment stationed in Iraq are carrying a special gift—the prized football helmet of one of America’s top high school linemen.

Landon Turner, a 6-foot-5, 310-pound offensive guard from Harrisonburg, Va., presented his helmet to members of the battalion at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl at the Alamodome in San Antonio in January.

The helmet made its way from Texas to Camp Taji, Iraq where it will remain until the unit returns home in late 2011.   

The 8-229 ARB is an AH-64 Apache Longbow unit from Fort Knox, Ky. The battalion is the attack arm of the 40th Combat Aviation Brigade, which has been tasked to perform full-spectrum aviation operations in Iraq this year.

In January shortly before the Apache battalion departed Fort Hood, Texas for Iraq, Command Sgt. Maj. Sammy Sablan led a group of noncommissioned officers and junior enlisted Soldiers on a mission: Attend the U.S. Army All-American Bowl at the Alamodome.

 The trip to the game was a chance for a little rest and relaxation for the Soldiers, who had just completed three months of rigorous pre-deployment training and evaluations.

The U.S. Army All-American Bowl is sponsored by the U.S. Army and features 90 of the best high school football players and 125 of the top high school marching band members in an East meets West matchup.

The Soldiers of the 8-229 watched a close match with a final score of East 13, West 10.

At the end of the game, the players on the East team gathered on the field to celebrate their victory. Each player from the East and West teams wore a football helmet of course, but these helmets were special; each helmet featured a division or major command patch graphic centered on the lower rear portion of the helmet. The presence of a patch painted on the helmets is really where this story begins.

Turner, assigned to the East team, wore a helmet that featured the 11th Aviation Command patch. This patch is worn by the members of 8-229 and identifies the higher command headquarters that issues orders to the battalion. The patch is what these Soldiers are wearing in Iraq.

"We gotta get that," Sablan said after seeing Turner’s helmet. "That's our patch!"

The quest was on. The Soldiers of 8-229 sought out Turner on the field and asked him to pose with the battalion for a photo. Turner agreed. One Soldier mentioned that the helmet was missing something; an "eight ball" sticker.

 The "eight ball" symbol is a sort of trademark for the battalion and usually ends up stuck to just about every piece of equipment or building that comes within arm's reach of any 8-229 Soldier. So, in keeping with tradition, an "eight ball" sticker was affixed to Turner's helmet and he struck a pose with the Soldiers.

Sgt. First Class Charlie Kelly, Noncommissioned Officer in Charge of the battalion's human resources office, made a valiant attempt at talking Turner out of his helmet but failed; Turner wasn't hearing it. Sablan, Kelly and the rest of the Soldiers headed for the buses and the long trip back to Fort Hood with their spirits dampened by the failure to talk Turner out of his prized helmet. 

But all was not lost. 

Thanks to Spc. Christiena Salm, an Apache Longbow attack helicopter crew chief assigned to Charlie Company, the helmet bearing the 11th Aviation Command patch would accompany the battalion's Soldiers back to Fort Hood. Salm had managed to talk Turner into donating the helmet to the battalion.

Turner, who paid $200 for the helmet to purchase it from the Army, was not willing to give it up without a lot of thought. In the end, Turner pointed to the American flag sewn on the upper left front of his jersey and said, "You guys make it possible for me to play football by going into harm's way, so it's the least I can do." 

The helmet will fly aboard attack helicopters during missions in Iraq. The future of the helmet upon return to the United States has not been determined yet. Something tells me that Landon Turner will see it again.

ADDITIONAL PHOTOS:

 
High school lineman Landon Turner holds his helmet which displays the patch that Soldiers of 8th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, 229th Aviation Regiment are wearing on their uniforms in Iraq. The helmet also sports the "eight ball" trademark for the battalion. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Appleby)
Landon Turner, a 6-foot-5, 310-pound high school offensive guard from Harrisonburg, Va., presented his helmet to members of the 8th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion, 229th Aviation Regiment at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl at the Alamodome in San Antonio in January. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Appleby)

 
High school lineman Landon Turner’s helmet is seen here at Camp Taji, Iraq in front of an AH-64 Apache Longbow helmet. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Yvonne Najera)
 

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