By Bo Carter
In a bowl atmosphere where the feeling of patriotism is enough to “burst your chest buttons” as the oldtimers are wont to say, the Armed Forces Merit Award presented by the Football Writers Association of America in conjunction with the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl reigns as one of the most unique honors in postseason football.
This year’s recipient is being honored at several ceremonies leading up to the 16th annual Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl, and the 2018 winner truly epitomizes the American spirit and will to win on the football field.
Dr. Chris Howard, an Air Force Academy veteran, was a standout as a football student-athlete for the Falcons and now is the president of Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh. He is simply adding another to a long list of his individual and team honors.
Also the first recipient of the 1990 National Football Foundation William V. Campbell Trophy, Dr. Howard has distinguished himself in service to our nation as well as higher education, and is a strong advocate of educational leadership in multi-cultural areas.
A Rhodes Scholar from Oxford University with a doctoral degree and an MBA degree holder from the prestigious Harvard Business School, Dr. Howard has also created multiple programs for veterans and their families at RMU and has been active in community service for four decades.
The award recipient annually is announced appropriately around Veteran's Day (Nov. 11) and is presented to an individual and/or a group who have created, developed and produced a program within the realm of the sport of football that provides care, concern and support for past or present members of the United States Armed Forces and/or their families.
The Merit Award selection committee includes five FWAA members and two individuals from the Lockheed Martin Bowl selection committee. This year’s nomination pool was one of the deepest and deserving group in the seven-year history of the honor with 35-plus individuals and team/multiple entities nominated by almost three dozen colleges and service groups.
Criteria for the award remains as: Authentic, Reliable, Motivating, Enthusiastic, Determined, Fair, Organized, Respectful, Committed, Effective, Selfless – an anagram spelling Armed Forces.
Since the origination of the award in 2012, winners have been noted Texas Longhorns walk-on and deep snapper Nate Boyer, veteran Brandon McCoy of the North Texas in 2013, Daniel Rodriguez of Clemson in 2014, Bret Robertson of Westminster College (Fulton, Mo. – where Sr. Winston Churchill’s famed Iron Curtain speech was delivered in 1946) in 2015, Steven Rhodes of Middle Tennessee in 2016, and Kansas State football in 2017 for the Wildcats' close association and training with U.S. Army soldiers from Ft. Riley, Kan., near the KSU campus.
Obviously, the Armed Forces Merit Award has recognized some of the nation’s top football-related patriots and will continue to “pop those patriotic buttons” for years to come.