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KHOST PROVINCE, Afghanistan –  U.S. Soldiers and Afghan National Security Forces are working together to increase security and governance along the Khost-Gardez pass at a new Combined Tactical Operations Center Read more

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PANJSHIR PROVINCE, Afghanistan –The adventure began on the cold, wintery morning, Dec. 10, deep in the Hindu Kush Mountains of the Panjshir valley in Afghanistan. The Panjshir Provincial Reconstruction Team Read more

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BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan - Capts. Frank Cunningham and Matt Howard stand next to Trauma Bay #1, named in honor of the Alabama Crimson Tide. Many NCAA teams, especially those from the South Eastern Conference sent memorabilia to the Craig Joint Theater Hospital here to brighten the spirits of the wounded servicemembers and staff. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Felicia Juenke) BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan -- When the bullets on the battlefield stop flying and the fog of war lifts, wounded servicemembers often find themselves in midst of college football greats at the Craig Joint Theater Hospital. Two Air Force doctors deployed here in August, 2009 and found record-breaking traumas and a hospital lacking character, but they found support from the NCAA football program, specifically the schools, coaches and players of the South Eastern Conference.

The hospital is a first-rate facility, but it just needed some personality, according to Capt. Matt Howard a Camden, Ark. native, deployed from Lackland Air Force Base, Texas.

"Everything was black and white; it just needed something more," said Captain Howard, a University of Arkansas Razorback football fan. "What better than college football?"

One of the first SEC teams to come forward was the University of Florida; their football team's head coach expressed why.

"I often use the military as an example with our football team and student-athletes," said University of Florida Head Coach Urban Meyer. "They are an example and should be an example for all because of their unselfish dedication to operate as a unit and a team. They have an unwavering commitment to their values and respect the goals and objectives of the unit. I am forever grateful for what they do to protect our freedom and our country."

Working more than 300 traumas, often with 90-hour work weeks, these doctors see the stresses of war firsthand and being able "to look up and think for a brief second about the game allows me to collect my senses and continue," Capt. Frank Cunningham said pointing to the 'Crimson Tide Bed.'

As the largest trauma hospital in the region, the Craig Joint Theater Hospital sees the war, up close.

"We're in a business where people die and the stress can go through the roof," said Captain Cunningham, a Mobile, Ala. native and avid University of Alabama football fan.

"Seeing the teams all represented here raises the morale of the medical staff and the American patients," Captain Howard said. "We see so many traumas, and guys in here are hurt; it can give you a break when you look death in the eyes every day."

The "Notre-Dame-football room," still in design, is currently occupied by a six-year-old Afghan girl who was the victim of a gunshot wound to the abdomen

"She's having a rough time," Captain Howard said. "The hospital has almost turned into a pediatric trauma-ward," referring to the increase of local children coming in with injuries from gunshots and IED and rocket-attack blast injuries.

Every team in the SEC has contacted the hospital offering their support, but the ones with the major support are: The Universities of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana State, Mississippi, Mississippi State, Notre Dame and Texas. The U.S. Air Force Academy, U.S. Military Academy and the U.S. Naval Academy also sent items for a "Service Academy Room."

On an uncommonly quiet Winter morning in the hospital, the two Air Force doctors wanted to express their thanks to the South Eastern Conference football teams who sent items that brighten the day of the wounded Marines, Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen.

"Many schools have contacted us, but it's the SEC that has come full force," said Captain Cunningham.

Bed spaces in the trauma ward were unofficially re-designated from a number to a university's football team. Other items include a signed lithograph from the head coaches of Alabama's Nick Saban and Florida's Urban Meyer, as well as their Heisman-Trophy quarterback, Tim Tebow. A signed football from Mack Brown and Colt McCoy's entire University of Texas team is encased in glass high above a bed, just feet away from an Afghan man wounded in a battle. There is also a caricature of a large Georgia Bulldog signed by head coach Mark Richt.

The University of Florida has history of supporting the men and women in uniform and recently organized an effort enlisting the support of three Jacksonville, Fla. elementary schools and 2,500 children to write letters to deployed troops. The school's College of Dentistry also organized a donation drive to send toothpaste, toothbrushes and other toiletries overseas.

"I'd like the schools, coaches, players and students to know that we appreciate their support," said Captain Cunningham. "Knowing Americans back home care for us and our mission allows us to work [save lives]."

BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan - A University of Georgia caricature, signed by football head coach Mark Richt, hangs over a trauma bed at the Craig Joint Theater Hospital here. Many NCAA teams, especially those from the South Eastern Conference sent memorabilia re to brighten the spirits of the wounded servicemembers and staff. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Felicia Juenke)

 

    

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