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NFL player could serve Army well

Cover your ears. Legions of sanctimonious voices are again shrieking over one of two areas that elicit the most moralistic zeal these days:

Why anyone allowed Hannah Montana to pose like that for a national magazine, and the war in Iraq.

This particular heat isn’t directed at 15-year-old Miley Cyrus for photos of her wearing solely a sheet (blonde wig not included) but instead an Army football player who intends on taking advantage of a new Academy policy.

It allows a cadet who signs a professional contract that would present opportunities for recruiting and other public-affairs benefits to postpone active service.

It means this: If Caleb Campbell as a seventh-round draft pick of the Detroit Lions makes the team, he will be allowed to skip the part about tours in Iraq or Afghanistan and instead spend two years as an area recruiter on his off days from football.

He would be supplying defense as an NFL linebacker rather than as a platoon leader of air artillerymen. He would dodge blocks instead of bullets. If his playing career continues past those two years, he could then buy out the remainder of his active service obligation and agree to six years of Selected Reserve.

Yeah. OK.

So?

Our military is stretched like a piece of taffy. Soldiers continue to be held past their enlistment contracts. The American Chronicle this week quoted Andrew Krepinevich, a retired officer and director of the Center for Strategic Budgetary Assessments, from this Pentagon Report: “The Army has become a thin green line that could snap unless relief comes soon.”

I have no idea if Campbell is good enough to survive an NFL training camp. Army produces pro football players as often as “American Idol” does bad ratings. But he’s trying to make the Lions, who most seasons barely qualify as a real team. He at least has a chance.

If he can secure a place on the roster and turn that success into discovering more willing young men and women to serve so that the Army doesn’t annually miss its recruiting goals by miles, why is that a bad way for taxpayers to earn a return on their investment?

The same goes for Army fullback Mike Viti, who signed a free-agent contract with Buffalo. The same goes for any cadet with such opportunity, be it in sports or entertainment or any high-profiled profession.

Already, Campbell said deployed soldiers have written supporting his pursuit. A high school player from Texas sent an e-mail saying Campbell’s story convinced him to sign with a military academy.

Do you know the people who seem to have the biggest problem with this? Those who never served a day.

“Talking with a lot of officers here at the Academy and my coaches, being a football player in the NFL representing the United States Army would be very beneficial,” Campbell said. “I really don’t want to get into the policy. That’s something for someone with a much higher rank on their shoulder than mine to decide.

“When I came to West Point, I wasn’t saying, ‘I hope they make a new policy so I don’t have to go to Iraq.’ I knew what I was getting myself into. I knew I was going to have the opportunity to be a platoon leader and one day leading soldiers into a potential combat situation because I enrolled here during a time of war …

“In terms of having a coach not cut me so they wouldn’t send me to Iraq, we’re talking about the NFL. This is a cutthroat business. I don’t think the NFL would have a problem cutting me if that was the case.”

Think about a few things when you hear others tearing down cadets who might take advantage of this policy (which the Navy and Air Force don’t offer their athletes) by shamelessly tossing around words such as honor and commitment and loyalty:

There are other ways to give back than being deployed. Not everyone boards those planes to Iraq. There are bigger pictures to consider, a military of dwindling numbers that desperately needs more than one linebacker or fullback to lessen the pressure on its over-extended troops, particularly if those young men can help recruit countless others.

Think also of this: After months of NFL headlines being soiled by the likes of Michael Vick and Adam ”Pacman” Jones and New England’s cheating ways, isn’t it about time kids begin to hear about a player such as Campbell?

“It’s a win-win situation,” he said. “I get to pursue a career because of this new policy, but if football doesn’t work out, I get to do what I came to the Academy for. I get to be an officer, and that’s something I love as well.”

Nothing wrong with this. Nothing at all.

Ed Graney’s column is published Sunday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday. He can be reached at 702-383-4618 or egraney@reviewjournal.com.

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