Kellen Winslow is not a soldier. And John
Crandall is not a college student — not yet. Crandall
can’t wait to enroll in 2005, but for now, there’s this
little matter of serving his country.

Mira Levitan

Crandall is a 21-year-old soldier in the U.S. Air Force.

Winslow is a 20-year-old football player.

Last Saturday, after Winslow’s Miami team lost to
Tennessee, and he was called for unsportsmanlike conduct, an
emotional Winslow confused two very different things.

“It’s war,” Winslow said of football.
“They’re out there to kill you, so I’m out there
to kill them. I’m a … soldier.”

Winslow’s beef with the officials seems ridiculously small
when compared to Crandall’s version of war. Airman First
Class Crandall, a Michigan native, deployed to Kirkuk, Iraq, in
July and secured the air base there, until he became seriously ill
in late September.

Crandall said his base took gunfire every day of his
two-and-a-half-month stint there, and that the airmen “all
pretty much got used to it; it got to be pretty normal.” He
said he did get really scared — once.

“We got hit by mortars,” Crandall said. “I was
on walking patrol at the DFP (Defense Fighting Position). I was
with my friends, and we were patrolling the wire. We were basically
just sitting there behind cover, with rockets, ready to fire
back.”

He didn’t have to shoot back that day. And he didn’t
personally know anyone who was killed in Iraq, although other
members of his squad did, because “it happened all the
time.”

From his home in Italy yesterday, Crandall calmly spoke about
what a war zone is like. He didn’t seem to think that taking
fire or exposing undercover al-Qaida operatives was anything more
than just part of his job.

Crandall was unaware of Winslow’s comments, and he kind of
smirked when he was told what Winslow said.

“I feel bad for him,” Crandall said, “because
if I wouldn’t have joined the military, I wouldn’t know
the difference either. Being a real soldier takes a lot of time and
dedication and sacrifice. I know it gets frustrating at football
games. But it doesn’t compare to anything close to being an
actual soldier.”

Winslow issued an apology Sunday, and he’s certainly not
the first to link war and football. But Winslow’s comments
were particularly troubling because he said them with such
indignation, as if he actually believed them. He probably
didn’t intend any disrespect; it’s easy to get caught
up in the game — or everyday life — and forget how real
war can be. But that’s the point. We shouldn’t forget.
Crandall and others like him deserve respect, even if it’s
the simple act of recognizing that football is just a game.

Winslow will play in another football game this week. A world
away, Crandall will continue to provide high-level security in
Italy. He said it’s “very possible” that
he’ll return to Iraq within a year. His squad will probably
go back in about four months if the airmen volunteer, or be
deployed again in about eight months if they don’t
volunteer.

It’s a choice they get to make, and when Crandall was
asked if he’ll volunteer, he said, “Oh yeah.
Definitely.” He’ll be leaving a wife and, by that time,
a child behind, but he feels it’s his duty to be there.

I would say that Kellen Winslow should walk in John
Crandall’s shoes before he complains again about how tough
football can be, but I don’t think Winslow could cut it as a
real soldier. Lucky for us, Crandall can.

Courtney Lewis can be reached at
“mailto:cmlewis@umich.edu”>cmlewis@umich.edu.

 

 

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