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Remembrance Day is coming up on Friday, and while I won’t have an opportunity to post anything on the KB that day, I would like to take the opportunity now to thank all the brave men and women who have fought for freedom, independence, and for their ideals. Regular people left behind their their families, jobs, and their lives for the greater good, and they deserve every honour for doing so.
Even in hockey, there have been players who fought in both World War I and World War II, and went to battle for their country. Tragically, two, Dudley “Red” Garrett and Joe Turner were casualties of battle. Others, such as Conn Smythe, and Howie Meeker were taken prisoner, or severely wounded.
However, this trend of hockey players joining the war effort is not just a thing of the past. A few years ago, Ben Stafford, a career minor leaguer who scored the Calder Cup winning goal with the Philadelphia Phantoms, quit his hockey career to join the US Marine Corps.
After graduating from Yale, with a degree in History, Stafford played parts of four seasons with the Phantoms. After scoring the winning goal in the 2005 Calder Cup Finals, he left hockey to attend medical school. Shortly thereafter, Stafford committed to joining the Marines and was deployed to Iraq. The Pat Tillman of the NHL, if you will. The following are selected excerpts of an interview between Philly.com and Ben Stafford.
Question: Do you miss hockey at all?
Answer: I do miss it. I didn’t miss it for a little while after the Calder Cup in 2005, but in the past few years, it has gotten worse.I have to confess that I haven’t put on skates since the Calder Cup in June 2005, more for a lack of opportunity than a lack of desire to play the game, however.
I especially miss it during the Stanley Cup playoffs. I haven’t experienced them, but I think the playoffs, taken as a whole, are the most grueling and impressive sports tournament in the world.
Every play of every shift is critical for two straight months, and the games are so physical.I do know what the full AHL playoffs are like, and I can only imagine it at the next level.It’s an incredible feat when you think about it.
Q: How long were you in medical school and why did you decide to leave?
A: I completed my first year and about two weeks of my second year, which is when I officially signed up for the Marine Corps.
I talked a lot with Health Professions Scholarship Programs personnel in the Army and Navy, but it wasn’t the right fit. Ali and I had talked about the Marine Corps for years, and it finally shifted from being a question of “When am I going to sign up?” to “Am I really not going to sign up?”
A lot of people ask me why I became a Marine, and I can comfortably say that it was the right decision. Leading infantry Marines in a combat zonehas been, and willmost likelyalways be, the greatest honor and privilege of my life.
Q: What attracted you to the Marines?
A: Initially, it was their commitment to being the best and to going to places that our country sees fit to send them.I have had a lot of opportunities in my life, and I felt that if other young men were giving their time, then why was the same not expected of me?
I felt, and still feel, strongly about our mission in Iraq.Butmost of all, I wanted to lead Marines, who have proven to me that they are the finest young men this country has to offer.
Q: I realize you can’t be real specific, but can you give me a basic idea of what you do and what your day is like?
A: I command a rifle platoon of Marines (including two Navy corpsmen, who are Marines to me) and some additional support personnel.We conduct mounted (in trucks) and dismounted (on foot) patrols, primarily to bolster the Iraqi security forces, namely the Iraqi police.
We’re also here for general security in the area and to help Iraqis and other parties assess and address the community’s infrastructure, i.e., water facilities, trash conditions, availability of electricity, etc.Our role is decreasing as the capabilities of the Iraqis improve, and this is happening on a daily basis.
Hats off to Ben Stafford, and all the selfless people in the armed forces for your efforts, and your sacrifices. One day is not enough to repay all you have done. Thank you.
(via Philly.com, images via NHL & AJH)