INDIANAPOLIS – A simple idea to reach out to communities across the state has turned into a boon for Indiana’s National Guard Recruiting Command this football season.
Sixteen high school football teams swapped their school colors to wear the digital camouflage football jerseys of the Indiana Army National Guard. The Indiana National Guard provided the teams the jerseys to wear during home games throughout the season. The response from the schools and their communities far exceeded the expectations.
Maj. Mike Daake, a recruiting officer, said the concept started with a discussion when Indiana hosted the national 7-on-7 football tournament in June.
“We were looking for a good way to brand the Indiana National Guard and football jerseys seemed like a logical approach,” said Daake. “The local high schools and the athletic directors and coaches jumped on board quickly. From there, we designed a jersey that teams are proud to wear, tells our story and gives our recruiters face time with centers of influence.”
National Guard pep rallies, military appreciation nights and ghillie-suit tailgating are just a few of the unexpected surprises that emerged from the National Guard jersey games. At least one game featuring Indiana’s fighting-force fashion was broadcasted live in central Indiana. The camo-clad Bulldogs of Brownsburg battled the Avon Orioles in a much anticipated rivalry match.
The jerseys had even more meaning for one family. Sgt. William Watson a squad leader with Company B, 2nd Battalion, 151st Infantry, said seeing his son Trevor in the Indiana National Guard jersey made him prouder than anything he had done in his life.
“Seeing him out there in National Guard camouflage … well my chest was out there,” said Watson of Russiaville, Ind.
Trevor said that the whole team and school were excited about the jerseys, but for him it was something a little more.
“It felt great,” said Trevor. “I was honoring the National Guard and my dad.”
The jerseys also caused a stir in social media around the state, said Sgt. 1st Class Jeff Lowry. He handles the Indiana National Guard Twitter account and helps supervise the Facebook account.
“We were able to track photos, posts and mentions of the jerseys on social media accounts of schools, the players, their fans and local media,” said Lowry. “Just a lot more than we normally see and for a longer stretch.”
The recruiting command leader, Maj. Shawn Gardner, said the jerseys have had an impact that far outpaces the modest investment the Indiana National Guard made in the jerseys and the manpower to support the program.
“These games mean something to the players, something to the students and their parents,” said Gardner. “They are going to watch the videos, share the photographs and stories for a long time. And I think they’re going to remember these games as the ones they wore the colors of the Indiana National Guard.”
With nearly 400 high schools in the state, opportunities abound. It would take 25 years to outfit every school at the current rate, just in time for Watson to see his grandson play in camouflage.