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Old 04-07-2006, 07:16 AM   #1
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Default Seahawks Fisher gets reflective -- and razzed -- in Afghanistan

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Seahawks Fisher gets reflective -- and razzed -- in Afghanistan
By GREGG BELL, AP Sports Writer
April 7, 2006

SEATTLE (AP) -- Bryce Fisher is used to wearing protective gear. He's been putting on helmets and pads even before he was a defensive lineman at Seattle Prep high school over a decade ago.

But body armor? To guard against bullets and improvised bombs?

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That was new, serious business to the Seahawks defensive end and Air Force Academy graduate.

"A few days ago, we were in Afghanistan, and I was wearing body armor," the 6-foot-3, 268-pound graduate of the Air Force Academy said Thursday in a telephone interview from Dubai.

He was on his way home from a 12-day NFL-USO tour of United States military bases in Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf.

"This is the way many of our service people live over here," he said. "People might just be walking and they blow up."

Atlanta Falcons defensive end Patrick Kerney and Pittsburgh Steelers offensive tackle Max Starks accompanied Fisher, NFL senior director of international public affairs Pete Abitante and an NFL Films photographer. The group traveled in C-130 transport planes over the Himalayas and in van convoys flanked by armed security details from the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division.

"There were shooters with us everywhere we went," Fisher said.

They visited Bagram Air Base, where they had lunch at the USO Tillman Center, a recreation center and movie house funded by the league in honor of former Arizona Cardinal and Army Ranger Pat Tillman, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2004.

Fisher never needed body armor as a motor pool officer at Pope Air Force base in Fayetteville, N.C., after he graduated from the Academy in 1999. And he doesn't need it in his current capacity as a public affairs officer in the Washington Air National Guard. He swapped nine years of reserve or National Guard duty for the required five years of active service under a program that releases elite military athletes to pursue their careers.

In the past 12 days, Fisher and his NFL colleagues learned firsthand of the concerns of U.S. soldiers and contractors as they work to rebuild Afghanistan among thousands of armed locals who don't want Americans there.

He learned more of Afghanistan's brutal history of conflict: the U.S.-led overthrow of the former Taliban government; the occupation by the Soviet Union; the civil strife that dates back centuries.

Fisher said he heard others tell the harrowing stories of Afghanis, who he said generally welcome the Americans. He also said meeting military members reinforced him being "as pro-USA a person as there is.

"The best people I've ever known give back to their country and to others," he said.

One of those is Air Force Captain Eric Woodring, an active-duty civil engineer rebuilding Iraq, who repeatedly e-mailed his former Academy roommate from Baghdad during the Seahawks' drive to the Super Bowl.

Fisher said he thought about what might have been if he had stayed on active duty with Woodring and his classmates. It bothers him somewhat.

"I'm still happy for the decision I made. I wouldn't want it any other way," he said. "But I wish I had the same experiences as my friends who have been back and forth into these combat areas. That's a language I can't speak with any credibility."

Fisher found another one of those friends in Afghanistan.

"One of the guys I worked with when I was a transportation officer in North Carolina was in an autograph line for me," Fisher said, marveling.

"He was like the vast majority of people in those autograph lines. They were asking for their kids, their brothers, cousins. That is the kind of people we have in our military. They work in 140-degree heat on a tarmac in the middle of summer over here so I can play a silly game."

Some of that character came from characters, Fisher said. He remarked "it seemed like half of Western Pennsylvania has been deployed over here," judging by how much razzing he took over the Steelers' beating his Seahawks in February's Super Bowl.

Pittsburgh's Starks being at his side didn't help.

"Every one of them had the same bad jokes, trying to rile me up," said Fisher, who also visited squadrons and units from his home state -- including one from the Army's Fort Lewis that had Seahawks logos painted onto sides of its helicopters.

"This trip has put the worst taste in my mouth about the game," he said of the Super Bowl defeat.

"Now, I am so much more determined to win, just so I can no longer hear Pittsburgh fans jibber-jabber about our team, about the NFC, whatever."
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