By Bo Carter, www.armedforcesbowl.com
Two of the most pleased persons in the TCU Bud Lite Platinum Club Tuesday afternoon were Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl executive director Brant Ringler and Bell Helicopter CEO and former U.S. Military Academy (West Point) linebacker John Garrison.
Seated with the head coaches of the 10th annual Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl – Air Force mentor Troy Calhoun and Rice head coach David Bailiff – the duo exuded all smiles at the completely-rebuilt Amon G. Carter Stadium venue and plans for the 10th anniversary BHAFB classic.
“We are extremely pleased to serve as sponsor for the bowl for the seventh year,” noted Garrison. “It is a tremendous venue, and it is great to back in Fort Worth after two years with the stadium reconstruction.
“These two teams epitomize college football,” continued the Bell Helicopter CEO. “We look for veterans and graduates from Air Force and Rice engineers as valued employees, and these student-athletes are our leaders of tomorrow. Bell Helicopter actively competes for the types of students who are graduates of Air Force against many other leading corporations.”
Garrison also expressed excitement about events honoring service personnel in and around the week of activities.
“I remember three years ago when the Wounded Warrior home project began for our veterans,” he noted. “There was a blind combat veteran and his wife and two children on the field, and they were awarded a new home. You could just see the tears of gratitude flowing from everyone, and we are so glad to be a part of this.
“The primary purpose of the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl is to recognize the men and women who currently serve in our armed forces and who have served,” Garrison stated. “This year over 100 families will be honored at the Wounded Warrior ceremonies at halftime, and we will have veterans going back to Korea, Vietnam and Desert Storm. It will reflect generations of service to our country.
“We are extremely proud on behalf of Bell Helicopter to represent the company’s 12,000 employees as the bowl’s sponsor,” he related. “There still are 145,000 U.S. armed forces deployed worldwide and over 76,000 in Afghanistan, so we are representing many heroes.”
“More than 25 percent of our employees are veterans,” Garrison said, “and Bell Helicopter is just elated to be associated with these two great football programs and institutions of higher learning..
“We also are glad to be participating in the Armed Forces YMCA, which is working with American Airlines to bring in 720 military families to see the game,” he explained. “This is just a tremendous program.
“There are so many other groups represented with the Silver Wings parachute group, Wings of Blue, and the Commander of the newly-commissioned USS Fort Worth – Hank Kim – will sing the National Anthem. We also will welcome several inductees into the various branches of the service before the game and at halftime and will celebrate the naming of the 2012 Great American Patriot Award – former Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force Gen. Norton A. Schwartz.”
Garrison, who watched with pride when Army edged SMU 16-14 in the 2010 BFAFB at Gerald J. Ford Stadium on the SM campus, is getting firsthand looks again at the bowl experience.
“Unfortunately, Army did not qualify for a bowl while I played there,” he noted, “but that was our goal every year, and we worked like heck in practice to try and get there. It sticks with you as a former player, and you just enjoy seeing the reactions from teams such as Air Force and Rice.”
Ringler, who is in his fourth years with the bowl and fourth as executive director after replacing Tom Starr, was equally ecstatic.
“This is a new experience in a new venue,” he opened, “and we are so glad to be back in Fort Worth after two years. On behalf of ESPN and the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl, we could not be more pleased with this matchup.
“This is a perfect marriage for us,” Ringler said with a smile. “We have an old friend in Air Force (competing for a BHAFB-record fourth time along with the 2007-09 seasons) and a new friend in Rice. They both wear blue, which helps in our ties and wardrobe selection.”
Ringler also indicated early ticket sales have been brisk and that both schools have a strong fan base as well as numerous players from the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.
“We’re just honored to be able play here again,” he stated. “This is Fort Worth’s bowl, and the response has been good from all sides. Over 90 percent of Rice’s team is from Texas, and Air Force has more Texans than any other state on its 2012 roster. There is a great legacy from Air Force’s six consecutive bowl bids.
“Rice is coming in here on a roll with five wins in the last six games,” Ringler added, “and has the second-youngest team in NCAA FBS. It amazing what coach David Bailiff has done with just seven seniors on this team.”
“Air Force brings back another very competitive team,” he said, “and they have played well against one of the toughest schedules in the country. This shapes up to be a matchup of two very talented and evenly-matched teams.
“Having Air Force here again is a reminder of what a tribute this bowl game is to the service academies and to our armed forces,” Ringler remarked. “If these teams qualify with the required six wins, Navy is scheduled to compete here in 2013 and ’16. Army is scheduled for 2014 and ’17, and Air Force is a welcome guest this year.”
“With the new 2014 playoff system and the changing landscape of conference membership,” he continued, “these will be interesting times, and we will make contract adjustments. We are just very pleased to have Conference USA and the Mountain West Conference represented this year.”
Ringler also thanked Bell Helicopter for extending its relationship to the current seven years and sees nothing but positive outcomes for future BHAFB encounters.
“We have a beautiful venue, many armed forces and military personnel in the DFW area to celebrate with us and are just exhilarated to be playing in Fort Worth again,” he summarized.