Northeast Times

Hail to the heroes

On Mil­it­ary Day at Eagles Train­ing Camp, wide re­ceiv­er Chad Hall loses his surfer locks to raise money for the Wounded War­ri­or Pro­ject. Army vet Shane Par­sons gets the last cut.

Wide re­ciev­er Chad Hall lets mi­litery men take turns at shav­ing his hair in hon­or of Mil­it­ary Day after prac­tice at the Eagles Train­ing Camp at Le­high Uni­versity, Au­gust 1, 2012, Beth­le­hem, Pa. (Maria Pouch­nikova)

BETH­LE­HEM, Pa. — In a day full of re­flec­tion and giv­ing thanks to mem­bers of the armed forces, per­haps the most poignant mo­ment of Wed­nes­day’s train­ing camp ses­sion oc­curred at mid­field of one of the Eagles’ prac­tice fields.

It wasn’t a bone-crunch­ing tackle, or a beau­ti­ful catch for a touch­down down the far side­line; rather, it was Eagles third-year wide re­ceiv­er Chad Hall, who sat some­what un­eas­ily in a fold­ing chair near the 50-yard-line.

One-by-one, Hall’s team­mates, as well as some of the 600 mem­bers of the armed forces, whom the team and Di­etz & Wat­son honored as part of Mil­it­ary Day at train­ing camp at Le­high Uni­versity, took turns shear­ing his golden locks.

Hall, a gradu­ate of the United States Air Force Academy, agreed to have his blond surfer-boy hair shaved to raise money for the Wounded War­ri­or Pro­ject, which provides pro­grams and ser­vices to severely in­jured ser­vice mem­bers who are in trans­ition from act­ive duty to ci­vil­ian life.

Sev­er­al of Hall’s eager team­mates pledged their own money — some of them as much as $1,000 — for the pro­ject, and be­fore long his flow­ing hair had been re­duced to an un­even, short-cropped cut.

ON THE CUT­TING EDGE

The man who fin­ished the job was Shane Par­sons, a 27-year-old Army vet­er­an who lost both of his legs to a road­side bomb near Bagh­dad in Septem­ber 2006. Des­pite hav­ing to learn how to per­form all of his ba­sic skills again, in­clud­ing read­ing and writ­ing, Par­sons couldn’t have been more up­beat as he dragged the elec­tric clip­pers across Hall’s scalp.

“I wanted to help give him a good cut, but I’m not sure how much he’s go­ing to like it,” Par­sons said with a laugh.

Par­sons, a nat­ive of Find­lay, Ohio, said it was im­port­ant for him to be on hand for the Eagles’ kick­off to their 2012 Ho­met­own Her­oes pro­gram to show people that even a few miss­ing limbs wouldn’t pre­vent him from liv­ing life to the fullest.

“Noth­ing keeps me down,” said Par­sons, who said he joined the Army after the Sept. 11 ter­ror­ist at­tacks. “I rock climb. I ski. I play hockey. I hunt. I sky­dive…I do everything. I don’t like the word ‘can’t.’ It’s not in my vocab­u­lary. I can do everything that any­one else can do, just a little bit dif­fer­ently.”

Par­sons was the shin­ing star of an over­all mar­velous day at Eagles train­ing camp, where act­ive mem­bers of the armed forces, as well as vet­er­ans, flocked to Beth­le­hem to see their fa­vor­ite team pre­pare for the up­com­ing sea­son. They were treated to com­pli­ment­ary food from Di­etz & Wat­son, a Wissi­nom­ing-based com­pany, as well as a Q&A ses­sion with Eagles ra­dio voice Mer­rill Reese, raffle prizes and much more.

SPE­CIAL DAY OF HON­OR

Mil­it­ary Day kicked off the 2012 Ho­met­own Her­oes pro­gram, a sig­na­ture pro­gram for the Eagles. At every home game this sea­son, the Eagles will hon­or men and wo­men of the armed forces at half­time at mid­field, “ac­know­ledging friends and fam­ily mem­bers whose bravery and strength make them de­serving of spe­cial re­cog­ni­tion,” ac­cord­ing to the team’s of­fi­cial web­site. 

On Wed­nes­day, most of the sol­diers filed in­to the bleach­ers at about 2:45 p.m. to watch the Eagles prac­tice, while some lucky ones were se­lec­ted to watch from dir­ectly on the field. After prac­tice, all mil­it­ary mem­bers joined the team for a post-prac­tice huddle with the team, fol­lowed by meet-and-greet and auto­graph ses­sions with dozens of Eagles.

“We ba­sic­ally just got to shoot the s– with them, find out about them and what’s go­ing on in their lives,” said Air­man First Class Jonath­an De­Rivera of the U.S. Air Force, also a 2008 Frank­ford High School gradu­ate and Chel­ten­ham nat­ive. “From afar, you’re not really sure what these guys go through or what they’re think­ing, but we can really re­late to each oth­er face-to-face.

“In a sense, what they do is sim­il­ar to what we do — be­ing phys­ic­al, stay­ing in shape, con­stantly mov­ing, work­ing to­ward a com­mon goal and be­ing very dis­cip­lined,” De­Rivera said.

It was a once-in-a-life­time op­por­tun­ity for the sol­diers, and in a sense, it was one group of her­oes meet­ing an­oth­er, though the Eagles made it clear who the day was all about.

“We owe it all to you,” Eagles head coach Andy Re­id told the as­sembled group after prac­tice. “We’re able to do what we do best be­cause of you.”

“What we do, that’s a game,” said former Eagles de­fens­ive tackle Dar­win Walk­er, who ad­dressed the troops be­fore prac­tice began. “What you all do…that’s busi­ness.”

MEM­OR­ABLE EX­PER­I­ENCE

For mem­bers of the mil­it­ary young and old, the ex­per­i­ence was an eye-open­er for both ded­ic­ated fans and cas­u­al foot­ball ob­serv­ers.

“I just re­turned from Afgh­anistan where I woke up at all sorts of crazy hours to watch these guys play the Gi­ants and Cow­boys,” said Chief Mas­ter Sgt. Steve Agrew of the Pennsylvania Na­tion­al Guard, a 37-year vet­er­an of the mil­it­ary and nat­ive of Ox­ford Circle, who now calls Cin­nam­in­son, N.J. home.

“Last year I was de­ployed in the middle of their sea­son, so I wasn’t al­ways able to see them. You don’t know what you miss un­til you don’t have it any­more, and some­times I felt that way about them, about all the Philly teams. What’s really nice is to be back home and see­ing every­one sup­port the mil­it­ary. That’s what you want to see.”

For oth­ers, like Staff Sgt. Aamir Cooper of the Air Force, a 28-year-old gradu­ate of Ab­ra­ham Lin­coln High School, just hav­ing the op­por­tun­ity to be back home and watch his fa­vor­ite team prac­tice meant the world.

“You miss what you know, wheth­er it’s your fam­ily, your friends, your girl­friend, your job. It’s all part of your nor­mal life,” he said. “And the Eagles are part of that for a lot of people. You get back home and real­ize how much every­one misses and ap­pre­ci­ates you, and time kind of stops for a mo­ment.”

Cooper said he was likely to be de­ployed to Afgh­anistan again soon for his third tour of duty, and a lot of the oth­ers in at­tend­ance would likely be head­ing there, too. But for now, Wed­nes­day was all about ap­pre­ci­ation for these ho­met­own her­oes who joined the armed forces to keep Amer­ic­an cit­izens safe and free.

“It’s what I be­lieve in, to fight for what you love,” Par­sons said. “I was in car­di­ac ar­rest three times, but there’s no quit in me. And watch­ing these guys fight for what they be­lieve in out on the field…I totally un­der­stand where they’re com­ing from. They helped so many sol­diers, so thank you to Coach Re­id, to the play­ers, to every­one, thank you from the bot­tom of my heart.” ••

Sports ed­it­or Ed Mor­rone can be reached at 215-354-3035 or em­or­rone@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at emorrone@bsmphilly.com.

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