Gators turn troops into early-risers to watch BCS

Published: Monday, January 8, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 7, 2007 at 11:19 p.m.

Members of the U.S. Army's 1st Battalion, 111th Aviation Regiment flew an orange and blue flag in the desert after the SEC championship game.

University of Florida Gators posters and flags deck their quarters.

Their team allegiance is even present in the name of one of the Army unit's air ambulance teams: "Forward Support Medevac Team Gator." So it's little surprise that some Florida National Guard members stationed in the Middle East will wake before dawn on what will already be Tuesday morning in Iraq to watch the Gators take on the Ohio State Buckeyes in the BCS National Championship Game.

The game will be broadcast in real time on a large, flat-screen television in the unit's conference room, among other locations, and the battalion's die-hard Gator fans said they plan to be up early enough to watch kickoff.

"Yes, it's inconvenient to have to wake up that early, but not so much that I can't do it," said Kevin Battell, a longtime Gator fan from St. Augustine. "There will be a replay. I'll watch that, too, if the Gators win."

The battalion, which provides air-ambulance evacuation throughout Iraq and Kuwait, started its year-long deployment in the fall.

Its members are among many Gator fans deployed overseas who will get to watch a real-time, albeit early, broadcast of the game.

Pat Mignon of St. Augustine, the battalion's executive officer, said aside from the morale boost that will come with actually watching the game, the Gators' winning football season has provided a rallying point for members of the unit.

"It's really not the game itself, but the pride in getting there," said Mignon, who began attending Gator games with his UF alum father when he was 10. "The buildup to the SEC championship and the BCS title gives us something to brag about, something to analyze and discuss and read about. It gives the soldiers something to look forward to and something that makes them feel closer to home."

The football season has also provided fodder for some friendly trash-talking, Mignon said. Half the company is actually from Arkansas, with another air-ambulance team named "Team Razorback."

Mignon said the two teams bet that if Florida won the SEC championship, the unit would fly a blue and orange flag for the next week. If Arkansas won, the red and black flag would fly instead.

"Obviously, the Arkansas fans were not happy," Mignon said.

Any deployment means missing holidays, birthdays and anniversaries. Many Gator fans said they counted having to miss one of the Gators' best football seasons among those sacrifices.

This is the first season Battell, who has been a season ticket holder for 24 years, will miss more than one home game since his UF alumna wife made him a fan in 1982, Battell said.

Battell said getting to watch the game in real time isn't the same as being at home. But he said it makes being away from home a little easier.

"Watching the game is a small comfort," Battell said. "Like everyone else, I'd rather be home for the game. But I'm glad to be able to watch it, instead of having to wait several days to find out who won."

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