Bill Little commentary: Outside the wire
It is a space where few of us, really, have had to go.
On Saturday, as we celebrate senior day and observe the final home game of a superb 2005 football season, as letter winners gather in reunion, we also pay tribute to the reason this stadium stands in the first place.
Texas Memorial Stadium was built in 1924, as a shrine to those Texans who had fought in World War I. They called it "The Great War," and they hoped there would never be another.
But there was another. And another. And another, etc., etc., etc.
That is why, at the north end of the facility which now shares its name with UT's legendary coach Darrell Royal, there is recognition of most of the worldwide conflicts in which veterans of the Armed Services of The United States of America have fought.
At the top of the north stands, the monument is dwarfed by a scoreboard and even blocked by camera scaffolds. But it is there all the same, dedicated to those Texans who died in WWI. The stadium has been rededicated several times, most recently in 1977, when it was recognized to include all veterans of all wars.
Each year, a specific game is set aside as "Veterans Recognition Day."
A Veterans Committee, chaired by Frank Denius, stands sentinel on the day, making sure the purpose of the stadium's original charge is never forgotten. Denius is the ideal person to chair the committee, because he remains one of The University of Texas' greatest supporters, and he is also one of the ten most decorated soldiers from the European theater of World War II.
Denius and the committee are hosting 75 soldiers from Fort Hood who have served in battle recently. An F-18 flyover, and a special National Anthem performance will highlight the day, and the soldiers will be honored both at the game and at a barbecue for them that will follow.
In the southeast corner of the stadium, a wreath will be placed at the Louis Jordan Flagpole, in recognition of UT's first letter winner killed in action in France in WWI.
All of this is pretty standard for this day...a day where it is important to remember the past. But it is also important to understand the impact of the present.
"Outside the wire" is the area where today, men and women of The United States of America put themselves in harm's way for the cause of freedom. And no one understands that more than Longhorn fullback Ahmard Hall.
Don't hold me to this, but this is how I remember it.
David Little, our youngest son who is a 38-year-old Austin lawyer with three young kids, had just been recalled from inactive duty status to serve as a major in the United States Marines in Iraq. He returned from serving as a JAG lawyer in the volatile Al Anbar province about a month ago.
I had talked often with Ahmard Hall about David, since they shared the bond of Marines. David had just left when I ran into Ahmard outside the football offices and told him David was on his way.
With a look of compassion, caring and concern, his bright eyes flashed.
"He will be watched over," I remember him saying.
You could take that a lot of ways, all of them positive. But what I know most of all about Ahmard Hall is that he epitomizes the motto of the Marines: "Semper Fidelis."
Earlier this year, the Big 12 Conference chose him as the male athlete winner of the 2005 Sportsman of the Year Award.
For the record, here is the criteria:
There are a couple of other house keeping items, such as being in good academic standing and having been a member of a team during the 2004-05 school year, but those are standard on any award punch list.
In a day when there is a lot of negativity in our world, Ahmard Hall's story is heartwarming. On September 11, 2001, he was on a ship on a tour of duty in Kosovo.
That day, he reassessed his life.
His dream had always been to play college football, and his old teammate at Angleton, Quentin Jammer, was a star player at The University of Texas. That day, Hall determined he would fulfill that dream. He went on to serve as a Marine Corps sergeant in Kosovo and in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.
By the time his four-year term was over, he had attained the rank of sergeant, and had earned enough credit to attend The University of Texas on the G. I. Bill. He is married. He and his wife, Joanna, who is also a Marine reservist now, have a two year old son, Mason.
When he approached Jeff Madden and the Texas coaching staff about walking on to the Longhorn football team, his condition was astounding. Marines are like that. His work ethic soon manifested itself as well, and by last fall, he was a member of the kickoff teams and was earning a spot as a back up fullback.
Meanwhile, both he and his wife were working to make ends meet. Despite not playing football for four years before he returned to school, he has played the 2005 season as the starting fullback on one of America's best football teams. He has played the game with passion, but he has treated his teammates and his opponents with respect. He works with community service, and is a constant inspiration to younger Longhorn players because of his work ethic, and his life's path.
Prior to the Texas-Arkansas game in Fayetteville on the second anniversary of 9/11, Hall was asked to lead the team on the field with the American Flag. He did it every game following that, including the Longhorns' historic appearance in the Rose Bowl.
At the Longhorn football banquet, Hall was chosen to receive the inaugural Pat Tillman Award given in honor of the former NFL Player who was killed in action, but he wasn't there to receive it. Instead, he was home baby-sitting so his wife could work overtime hours to earn credit so that she could make the team trip to the Rose Bowl.
Hall is currently in the inactive reserve, but could be recalled to duty at any time, and he knows it. But when he finishes his degree, his opportunities are limitless, and might even include a chance at professional football.
Right now, he is the Longhorns' high profile representative as a statement to patriotism. When the Texas Legislature honored the team for its Rose Bowl Victory, Hall was one of two players they asked to come to the House floor to accept the award. As a Veteran's Day project last year, Hall helped the Longhorns organize a drive to provide care packages to the Marines in combat.
The Big 12 gave their award to a guy who is a real American hero. He is a dedicated husband and father, an unselfish and caring teammate, and a proud Marine.
They say "the Lord helps those who help themselves," and Ahmard Hall has certainly done that.
But what we know most of all, when it comes to "watching over" folks, Ahmard Hall is both a participant, and a recipient.
When David Little left Iraq, he sent an e-mail to friends and family.
"I cannot leave this place without remembering those who will not return," he wrote. "Both friends and Marines and sailors I did not know shed their blood and gave their lives here. They believed in what they were doing. They took a stand and made a difference with their lives, and are to be respected for that. They stepped up and faced death so that others would not have to, and they are to be honored for that. And, they gave of themselves selflessly so that my children and yours can play in the yard, go to school, and live their lives without the constant fear of an attack from evil terrorists. They are to be thanked for that."
There is no better tribute than that, and no better representative of what it all means than Ahmard Hall. For he, and those others we honor today, have gone "outside the wire" for all of us.