News: 'Guard the Field' brings students and Vikings together
By Staff Sgt. Danielle Eineke
34th Infantry Division Public Affairs
BLOOMINGTON, Minn. - Pfc. Cody Raatz, a member of the Albert Lea High School football team, never imagined he would be playing football at the Minnesota Vikings’ Winter Park training facility with some of his favorite professional football players.
“You don’t get many opportunities to meet the football players you watch on TV,” Raatz said, “let alone have the chance to throw a ball around with them.”
Raatz was just one of a group of high school students from across the state who participated in the Minnesota National Guard’s annual “Guard the Field” event Jan. 12, 2013. The event provided a unique opportunity for the high school athletes to meet some of their role models.
The day started with a panel of players offering advice and answering questions, followed by running drills on the field.
“The biggest piece of advice I have to give to these kids is don’t be that guy they say could have made it - be the guy who makes it. Keep yourself motivated and always give 100 percent,” shared Vikings wide receiver Jerome Simpson.
Raatz sees his decision to join the Minnesota National Guard as a way to reach his 100 percent.
“Basic training changed me,” he said. “I know now about how much potential I do have. In ten weeks you can really learn a lot about yourself.”
His family and friends have seen the changes too.
“A lot of my friends are pretty amazed that I enlisted so young and actually went to basic training. Most have said that I came back a different person. I’m pretty proud of that,” Raatz explained.
“Being in the Army is a lot like football,” Raatz continued. “Basic training is 30 percent physical and 70 percent mental. It’s also about working as a team with your fellow soldiers to get the job done.”
That is a sentiment shared by Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen.
“The game’s mostly mental. You need to start with the basics, build your team and put in a lot of hard work to make it,” he advised the students.
“You reap what you sow in football and the National Guard,” Raatz stated. “In football you lift weights, run, practice, etc. in hopes of winning games. The coach guides you. In basic training your drill sergeants give you the tools you need and teach you to use them. It’s up to you to put them to use. If you want to succeed you will. In the National Guard it’s all about how hard you work and how well you do your job that determines how far you can go.”
Each year the Recruiting and Retention Battalion hosts the “Guard the Field” event.
Staff Sgt. Dajon Ferrell explained the mission as an opportunity for the Minnesota National Guard and the Minnesota Vikings to teach teamwork and dedication to the group of students.
“‘Guard the Field’ gives them the opportunity to pay if forward to the next generation,” she explained.