It is funny, Army Maj. Shawn Fernandez will tell you, more with a sense of appreciation than humor, how much even the smallest reminders of home can mean when you are stationed in Afghanistan.
Take, for example, a magnetic kapa design University of Hawaii Warriors "H" logo somebody in the 101st Airborne slapped on a mortar tube at a combat outpost in southern Kandahar Province a while back.
"We ran around like crazy yelling and taking pictures in front of that thing," Fernandez said.
For a few minutes in a dangerous area not far from the Pakistan border, suicide bombers were forgotten and Hawaii seemed a little closer for the soldiers from the islands.
Over this Memorial Day weekend, as we honor the sacrifices made by military personnel, the Warriors can continue to be a reminder of home for many of Hawaii’s warriors afar.
They are something to follow and, using the sports seasons as a measure, something to make the time pass a little quicker, their fans in uniform will tell you.
Which is part of the reason why, when Fernandez was home on leave four months ago and surrounded by Pro Bowl players, the first figure he sought out along the sideline at an AFC practice was Greg McMackin, the UH head coach.
"I wanted to thank him for what he’d sent us and what it meant," said Fernandez, an ‘Iolani School and UH ROTC graduate, who asked to pose for a picture and, when he attempted to thank the coach, was beaten to the punch. "Not a lot of other coaches do what he does."
What McMackin has done is patiently and graciously answer requests from local military people overseas by sending UH items. Sometimes bumper stickers or pictures and the like, but always thanking them for their service.
For a while, Fernandez said, "guys in our unit were writing to the coaches at their schools and home (state), teams in the Pac-10, Southeastern Conference, Big 12 …"
When few of those requests got responses, Fernandez said he figured his might not have much of a chance. "A lot of those (bigger) schools have people to handle things like that," Fernandez said. "And, I’m beginning to think if they aren’t hearing back …"
But when "an envelope came from Coach Mack, I was on top of the world," Fernandez said. "I couldn’t believe he actually took the time to send it."
Suddenly, the chow hall in Hutal was sporting Warriors regalia, visible reminders that UH’s coach had come through when most others had not. It was also something of a declaration of home turf for the much looked forward to occasions when the Armed Forces Network brought in UH’s games via ESPN.
"We watch ’em all," Fernandez said. "We especially loved that Nevada game," in which the Warriors’ 27-21 upset denied the Wolf Pack (13-1) an unbeaten season.
Deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan behind him, Fernandez will be assigned back to Hawaii next month, returning as an even more passionate Warriors fan than when he left.
Reach Ferd Lewis at firstname.lastname@example.org.