By Sgt. Michael L. Owens
Louisiana National Guard
PINEVILLE, La., (10/29/09) - Members of the Louisiana Army National Guard were surprised by four NFL players during pre-deployment training here at Camp Beauregard Oct. 23.
New Orleans Saints players Mark Brunell, Jonathan Goodwin, Zachary Strief and Jonathan Stinchcomb showed up on the M-16 rifle qualification range to meet the Soldiers of the 256th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, who will deploy in January.
The players flew in Blackhawk helicopters provided by Louisianaâ€™s State Aviation Command from Armstrong International Airport to a landing zone near the range where the 256th Soldiers were training.
"I was kind of nervous because it was my first helicopter ride, but it is a great way to travel," said Stinchcomb, an offensive lineman for the Saints.
â€œWe are excited that you took the time out of your busy schedules to come here and spend some time with us,â€ said Col. Jonathan T. Ball, commander of the 256th. â€œMost of us are big fans of the Saints, and we are honored to have you here.â€
After being introduced, the players were given a safety briefing, safety equipment and allowed on the range to fire a few shots at the pop-up targets.Â
â€œI feel like a big kid out here,â€ said Goodwin, the center for the Saints.
Once the players finished firing, they talked to the Guardsmen and thanked them for their service, before signing autographs and giving out NFL memorabilia.
â€œWe play a game for fun, but you guys have the real job,â€ said Brunell, the Saints quarterback. â€œYou are the true heroes, and we are very appreciative of the service you give your country to keep us safe.â€
Before being flown back to New Orleans, the players were given a few tokens of appreciation by Ball, including an Army National Guard backpack, 256th coin and a framed certificate symbolizing that they are honorary members of the 256th.
â€œI had a great time out here,â€ said Stinchcomb.Â â€œI will be talking about this for a very long time.â€