God bless them...
Soldiers Prep for Super Bowl in Iraq
U.S. tankers patrolling in western Iraq early Monday will have their eyes on the dangerous roads to Baghdad - and their ears tuned into a broadcast of Super Bowl XL, specially transmitted on a secure U.S. military frequency.
There isn't much doubt whom most will be rooting for. Soldiers in this area are from the Pennsylvania National Guard - including hundreds from the western half of the state who hope their beloved Pittsburgh Steelers will claim a fifth NFL championship.
On "Super Sunday," American troops will continue daily patrols and supply runs throughout Iraq. But at 2 a.m. Monday local time, thousands - some at lavish parties complete with barbecues and cases of beer - plan to tune into the game, broadcast by the Armed Forces Network.
At a U.S. military base in Habaniyah, 50 miles west of Baghdad, the 1st Battalion, 110th Regiment, 28th Infantry Division made extensive preparations to observe the annual rite.
Special orders of chicken wings and steaks - along with kielbasa and sauerkraut, a taste from back home in Pittsburgh - were inbound. A stack of old ammunition crates will fuel a bonfire.
"I asked for pierogies, but I don't think that's going to happen," said Capt. Stephen Jaksec, a native of Johnstown, Pa., who now serves as a battalion communications officer. "It was put in as an official military function, so hopefully it'll come through."
For some soldiers in remote outposts, though, satellite broadcasts and Super Bowl festivities will be a universe away. U.S. advisers training some of the first Iraqi soldiers to take over security responsibilities in this dangerous area west of Baghdad made far simpler plans.
"Yeah, I'm going to drink a Pepsi. Maybe I'll play the Super Bowl on (the) Madden 2006" video game, said Sgt. Joseph Neary of Altoona, Pa. He lamented the fact that his consecutive streak of Super Bowl keg parties would be snapped this year. Instead, he planned to call home on a satellite phone to check for score updates.
"If we really wanted to, we could probably go into town and buy a sheep and have a barbecue," said Neary, as he quickly shaved in anticipation of a commander's visit to his outpost.
Neary, who survived a suicide car bomb attack last year, will likely do his standard two or three foot patrols alongside Iraqi soldiers. Regular duties will also continue for the tank crews who watch over the key roads that course through dangerous Anbar province to Baghdad - but an extra broadcast will be channeled to their headsets.
"What we do is hot-mike a radio up to a television so the guys clearing the supply routes can listen to the game," said Maj. Dwight Chrvala of Pittsburgh. "We don't stop operations, even for the Super Bowl."
"My biggest concern is whether the offensive line comes to play on Sunday," Chrvala said. "I'd like to see Bettis go out in style," he added, referring to Steeler running back Jerome Bettis, who is expected to retire after this season.
At the Iraqi outpost outside Khaldiyah, a U.S. military adviser had minimal hopes for the weekend - and a Steeler victory was not necessarily at the top of the list.
"If I'm alive the day after the Super Bowl, I'll be happy," said Sgt. Greg Bozovich of York, Pa., whose team of advisers has suffered a 20 percent casualty rate since August.
But for those loyal Steeler fans fortunate enough to have access to many modern conveniences on the Habaniyah base, the party will be in a mini-amphitheater guarded by an 8-foot inflatable Steelers doll.
The game will be projected onto the side of a shack that serves as the home of Jaksec, the communications officer.
"It comes out better than a drive-in theater," Jaksec beamed.
Across the Habaniyah base, bright Steeler paraphernalia was hard to miss. Inside a dimly lit mess hall serving overcooked spaghetti and meatballs, soldiers ate under hanging "Terrible Towels," the banners waved by Steeler fans during home games.
"One for the Thumb," the Steeler motto referring to the digit where a fifth Super Bowl ring would presumably be placed, was spray painted across a Bradley Fighting Vehicle.
And, earlier this week, a banner in bright yellow and black - Steeler colors - was hoisted outside one company's headquarters, a few feet below the U.S. flag.