I have been in the military for 19 years and have spent a few football seasons deployed. I thought that readers who are not familiar with the deployed military football fan might enjoy learning about how deployed troops go about rooting for our teams, and the conditions in which we do so. Being deployed during football season creates a very competitive and fun atmosphere for fans. It also provides a way to mark time away from home.
The first step in being a military sports fan is to let your loyalties be known. As true fans in a sea of many others from all areas of the United States you must stake your ground for your team, in my case the Bengals. You will be identified throughout the deployment by that allegiance. As a deployed Bengal fan I have always brought a small item of "fan gear" that I can hang in my tent or barracks room. Usually i bring an Ochocinco jersey that i can hang up, but am forbidden to wear outside due to uniform regulations.
One thing about being deployed during football season is that you begin to mark time in NFL weeks. Similar to players it is not just a regular week but Steeler week or Raven week. You seek out a few opposing fans, if they are not already in your face, for some friendly smack talking. This banter back and forth is fun and it creates a competitive atmosphere for the week, but more importantly it takes your mind off work and thoughts of your family at home.
Now it is game time! Football games are normally televised in a "morale tent". Three TVs tuned to the three different games that the Armed Forces Network is able to pipe in. Fans stream in around 2330 hours (11:30 pm) looking for a coveted seat on a dusty old couch or chair for a midnight kickoff. Those showing late are regulated to the floor or find a perch along the wall. As you come in you grab a cold bottle of water out of one of the many refrigerators, replacing it with one of the non-refrigerated variety so your mates don't have to drink warm water. Normally there is a microwave to pop a little popcorn sent from home. If you are lucky there will be a popcorn machine spewing out movie quality kernels.
The games kickoff and the room is buzzing. For those with teams that don't command a national network audience one must rely on in-game updates and the ticker at screens bottom for updates. This does not deter anyone from watching the games afforded us. Watching football is our minds' break from everything outside that door, even if for just a few hours. As the hardcore fans continue to cheer, the occupants of the sofas, chairs and floors turn from interested fans to slumbering troops grabbing a few winks before returning to work. An occasional arousal for cheers from a big play, fumble, or interception soon gives way to more slumber.
As the season plays out many fans come to the realization that this is not the year for their team. Before you know it the playoffs arrive; if you are lucky enough to still have your team playing you become even more fanatical. The playoffs progress and eventually everyone gathers for the Super Bowl. The audience consists of a base sanctioned party of fans and bandwagoners who had recently come out to cheer. Funnily enough, everyone watches the game wondering what the commercials are like for those watching in the states as military audiences are not privy to them on AFN. The season sadly ends, a milestone marker for an individuals' time spent deployed.
The tally in deployed time: 150 days of time spent cheering our teams. One day a week that offered a small distraction from the tiresome rigors of a long deployment. A part of America's sports landscape that is taken with us to all corners of the world and set up in morale tents. As members of the military part of our identity is that of our hometowns and our teams. What often makes us unique is that piece of home we pack up in our hearts and wear on our sleeves or simply hang in our small personal living quarters. Hopefully during this year's Super Bowl everyone took a little time to remember those men and woman serving and who look forward to being back home, with you, cheering for our team together.