Chris Aiken: Spent five years in the Army and served two tours of duty in Iraq before joining the Appalachian State football team. Aiken served as a military policeman before becoming a defensive tackle. Read more
P.J. Byers: Penn State fullback is also a second-class petty officer (E-5) in the U.S. Navy. As a dive specialist, Byers did underwater submarine repairs and demolition of explosives at the Pearl Harbor Naval Station, and trained dolphins to find mines in San Diego. Read more
Laurie Coffey: The 1999 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy played forward on the basketball team and rowed for the varsity eight. As a lieutenant commander in the Navy, Coffey is a fighter pilot based at Naval Air Station Oceania in Virginia Beach. Read more
Brooke Cultra: Played guard for the U.S. Air Force Academy before graduating in 2009. A First Lieutenant, Cultra is based in Kaiserslautern, Germany as a contract manager. Read more
Alex McGuire: Played guard for the U.S. Military Academy before graduating in 2009. She is now a First Lieutenant stationed in Schweinfurt, Germany and currently deployed to Forward Operating Base Sharana in Afghanistan. Read more
Very few collegiate sports were held in 1918, when America and the world was gripped by a flu pandemic and World War I. As Michigan and Pitt were on the way to sharing the NCAA football crown, the nation turned its attention to the armistice ending hostilities between Germany and the Allied forces on the Western Front. The armistice itself took effect on the "eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month" of 1918. A year later on Nov. 11, 1919, the first Armistice Day was celebrated to commemorate the sacrifices of veterans in World War I. Veterans Day, which now honors all veterans, replaced Armistice Day in 1954.
As Veterans Day 2011 approaches nearly a century later, the intersection of collegiate sports and the military is more pronounced.
Student-athletes at military academies leave as commissioned officers, many serving in combat around the world. Meanwhile, veterans, many in peak physical condition, return to traditional campuses as student-athletes in peak physical condition, and as seasoned leaders with a balanced perspective on life.
By Michelle Hiskey
“There are no limits to what you can do.”
Alexandra “Alex” McGuire claimed that as her personal motto, inspired by her college coach, Maggie Dixon.
Alexandra “Alex” McGuire played guard for the U.S. Military Academy before graduating in 2009. She is now a First Lieutenant stationed in Schweinfurt, Germany and currently deployed to Forward Operating Base Sharana in Afghanistan. Photo courtesy of Army Athletics
McGuire was a plebe – a first-year student at West Point – and a rookie guard for Dixon. The Black Knights won 9 of their final 11 games to make Army’s first trip to the NCAA Tournament.
Shortly after that postseason appearance, the 28-year-old Dixon collapsed and died. The cause was determined to be an enlarged heart.
“She believed in us when no one else did,” McGuire wrote in an email from Forward Operating Base Sharana in Afghanistan.
“She always made us believe we could accomplish anything if we worked hard enough and believed in each other. She had such passion for life, and when you were with her she made you feel like you were the most important person in the room. I strive to live my life in a similar manner.”
Today, the 24-year-old McGuire is a leader, serving as a Battalion S1/First Lieutenant. Her DNA carries the drive to excel: Her father was a career soldier who also taught her hoops.
“I do still play basketball, unfortunately not nearly as much as I want to,” McGuire wrote.
“I recently played for the post team in Schweinfurt [the German army base where she is stationed] and I play pick-up from time to time. I am still very competitive and don’t like to lose at anything. Whether it’s officer PT [physical training], playing ultimate Frisbee or a fantasy football league with my co-workers, I want to win.”
McGuire has channeled that drive, and successful habits from collegiate competition, into her military career.
“My experience as a student-athlete has helped shape who I am today,” she said. “Going through practices, conditioning, and weight training sessions throughout college gave me the discipline to stay in shape and maintain my physical fitness in the Army. Playing in tight games in college allowed me think on my feet and stay calm under pressure.
McGuire is currently deployed in Afghanistan. Photo couresty of SPC Michael Baumgartner.
“There are numerous times when a situation arises that needs to be dealt with immediately. I am able to stay calm, and focus on what needs to be accomplished in order to get it done.”
In Afghanistan, there is life inside and outside the wire. No matter what the threat level, McGuire has the clarity she developed on the basketball court.
“When a game was on the line, you do whatever it takes to get the job done and win the game. In the military, if your life is at stake you will do whatever it takes to save yourself and those around you.”
Michelle Hiskey is a freelance writer and a former golf student-athlete at Duke.