NCAA football lifts morale for doctors, wounded troops

  • Published
  • By Capt. David Faggard
  • 455th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
Two Air Force doctors brought spirit to the Craig Joint Theater Hospital here with help from NCAA football program officials.

The hospital is a first-rate facility, but it just needed some personality, said Capt. Matt Howard a native of Camden, Ark. native.

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

The University of Florida was one of the first Southeastern Conference teams to come forward.

"I often use the military as an example with our football team and student-athletes," said Urban Meyer, the University of Florida head coach . "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."

The Craig Joint Theater Hospital is the largest trauma hospital in the region.

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," said Capt. Frank 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." 

Many NCAA teams have contacted the hospital offering their support including: 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."

To thank the universities who donated items, bed spaces in the trauma ward were unofficially redesignated from a number to a university's football team.

Some items donated 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. There is also a caricature of a large Georgia Bulldog signed by head coach Mark Richt.

The University of Florida 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," Captain Cunningham said. "Knowing Americans back home care for us and our mission allows us to work (save lives)."