SAN ANTONIO – It began with a situp competition and ended with the 2014 U.S. Army All-American Bowl East Team hoisting their second trophy of the day as chants of “East Team!” filled the pavilion of Sunset Station at the Alamodome Jan. 1, 2014.
As one of the team-building events leading up to Saturday’s bowl game, the All-American Soldier Mentor Challenge pitted players, band members and soldiers in a head-to-head challenge to see which side of the Mississippi could emerge victorious.
The evening began with the situp event where East edged out West by 23 situps, moved into the pushup event with the West earning a victory and moving into the eating competition for the deciding point of the night.
Each team fielded two players, two band members and two soldiers who sat before a plate bearing six hot wings, a hot dog or half a world-famous Fatty’s burger. The event was a relay and each consecutive person could begin his or her portion only after receiving the signal from the judging drill sergeant.
Tied going into the battle, the West Team faltered and slowed as the East Team surged ahead to gastric triumph, and of course, the All-American Soldier Mentor Challenge trophy – their second of the day. The East Team also snatched the win at the American Family Insurance Dream Challenge earlier in the afternoon.
U.S. Army Reserve Non-Commissioned Officer of the Year Sgt. 1st Class Jason J. Manella was on hand for both the competition and the mentorship dinner that followed. He likened the All-American experience to the experience of basic combat training.
“These students are coming from all over the United States and getting mixed together, and sometimes it’s their first time meeting someone from the Northeast or the South,” Manella explained. “This is an experience immediately working with people you just met, building a team and working together to achieve a goal; just like you have to do in the military.”
As a student himself, Manella has enjoyed the mentorship program and being able to share his experiences with the students. He also explained what a great opportunity he has as an Army Reserve soldier.
“I can talk ROTC (Reserve Officers' Training Corps), and being a civil affairs soldier. I can talk to them about how we go overseas to help people, to work with local civilians bringing electricity, bringing water, improving their quality of life.”
Manella wants to use his experiences in civil affairs to help students understand there is more to the Army than meets the eye.
“They might think that the Army is, ‘Just pick up a gun and go shoot people.’ This is an opportunity to show them our support MOS's (military occupational specialties), which have almost nothing to do with that. You train to the same standard, but there are a lot of skills they can develop in schools that they can use in the military or vice versa.”
If the All-Americans take nothing else away from their time with Manella, he said he hopes they at least understand what he considers to be the most essential of the Army values, and the one he feels translates into life wherever you find yourself – integrity.
“It’s something my dad always instilled in me,” Manella explained. “He said, ‘Someone can take away anything from you: your personal belongings, anything. The one thing they can’t take is your integrity, it’s something you have to give up.’ I feel like if you really hold your values closely – especially integrity – then all the other values are going to fall into place."
Manella and the other soldier mentors will remain with the team for the rest of the week, joining them on the sidelines for the culminating event, the 2014 U.S. Army All-American Bowl scheduled to kick off at noon Jan. 4, 2014.