After living the game day experience through the eyes of the media for the Western Michigan game, I looked forward to dialing things back into fan mode. I queued up before the gates opened to the U-M Golf Course it wasn’t long before I was settled in with a drink and a newspaper as the sun rose.

Game day in Ann Arbor means different things to different fans. For some it’s an opportunity to get outside and enjoy the color, sounds and excitement of college football.  Others see their meticulously planned tailgate parties as a sacred ritual.

No matter how serious you treat the game day experience, it’s hard to trump what it meant to Scott Hawkins on Saturday morning.

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Marine Scott Hawkins, six days before heading to Afghanistan

When I spotted Hawkins tailgating next to our group he looked any other young man hanging out that morning.  The difference is that Hawkins won’t be back next week or for the rest of the season: the 20 year-old Marine is being deployed to fight in Afghanistan on Friday and won’t return until at least April.

And he’s leaving much more than friends and Michigan football behind–his wife Crystal is pregnant with their first child.

“They baby is due a month before I’m scheduled to come home,” said Hawkins.

Couldn’t they consider getting him home early given the circumstances? His quick answer summed up that prospect: “Negative.”

On top of being thousands of miles away, the mere ability to reach Hawkins’ boat is at the discretion of the captain, who assesses the security risk before allowing communication in or out of the amphibious unit.  Scott told me that his wife Crystal understands the policy but doesn’t really agree with it adding, “I just pray that I’ll be able to know when she goes into labor.”

I spoke to Hawkins’s father Rob Plethers, who was both excited and emotional that morning.  He told me that they’re not sure where his son will be going to in Afghanistan but that he expects “it’s probably going to be in a rough area.”  His amphibious unit will contain members of the elite Navy Seals and as I understand it they don’t send those guys in to set up the volleyball games.

Like most Wolverine fans, Scott knows his football and considers himself a lifelong fan.  Naturally I asked him about the Rodriguez-led Wolverines and the spread offense.  Donning a white Chad Henne’s #7 jersey (I was kind of hoping it was for Ricky Leach), he offered above-average expectations on the season, “I’m hoping for eight wins, maybe nine.  I see good things happening once we settle down on a quarterback.”

Inspiration for the Aggies
Hawkins played football for Dansville, a small town not far from Lansing.  On Friday he was asked him address the current team on a day that coincided with the eighth anniversary of September 11th. It wasn’t lost on me that Hawkins was a boy, just 12, when the attacks occurred.

The 2009 version of the Dansville Aggies were outscored 80-0 in their only two games of the season and there’s no doubt the coach was looking for inspiration to boost the spirit of his squad.   He found it in the 20 year-old Marine.

“I told them about the importance of separating business and pleasure,” Hawkins explained. “This is a young group of guys and I know that they want to have fun.  But they need to understand when it’s business time.”

He told them, “If you play with intensity, courage and a commitment to the team it will make believers out of the fans in town. People will come and watch you play.  As players, this will lift you up and give you a reason to want to play.”

Hawkins confirmed that more than a few players got teared up during his speech. “I told them it was all right to cry.  It’s fine,” he told me.  “It just showed me how fired up they were.”

The Aggies got the message.   As Hawkins watched from the sidelines, Dansville came away with their first win of the season, a 33-27 victory over Bath.

Business Time
As the sun dipped away early Saturday evening, Michigan fans stormed out of the Big House basking in the great victory over Notre Dame.   I returned to the golf course and found Hawkins with a wide smile.  He heads off this week with the memory of a great day of friends, family and football in Ann Arbor.

This Friday many of us will be making our preparations for another tailgate party, hoping the weather holds and the Wolverines continue to get it done on the field.  For Scott Hawkins and his fellow Marines heading to war in Afghanistan, Friday is business time.

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Hawkins and his father Rob Pethers

11 Comments

  1. Great post, Greg. Thanks for sharing that story.

  2. I don’t expect civilians to understand this but the Marine Corps, or any other branch of service, does not issue its members spouses nor babies. While the DoD does go out of it’s way to take care of families and provide support on base, Scott is there to serve his nation. It’s a higher calling and not just necessarily a 9 to 5 job. The sooner Scott and Crystal realize that, the happier everyone will be.

  3. Greg (MVictors)

    @Chris
    Chris, I’m 100% percent sure Scott is clear on that.

  4. Having lived in AA for a number of years, I still try to follow what is happening and I found this article. I hope the people around this young Marine last Saturday thanked him for what he is doing. Our community hosted 25 or so wounded Marines last June and they stated they were not sure what the American public thought of them. Rest assured these veterans knew when they departed. I just wish I could say “Thanks” not only to Scott but to his wife and his obviously proud Dad as well. Semper Fi young man!! (And come home safe!)

  5. Greg, thanks for this post. I never cease to be awed by the men and women who serve our country so nobly.

    Godspeed, Mr. Hawkins. We’ll be thinking of you every day. Go BLUE!!

  6. Amen, Pat and Paul. Thanks for doing what you do, Mr. Hawkins. Godspeed.

  7. Kyle Langschwager

    Great Article Greg…always touching to hear about the men and women who fight for our country.

    (thank god it wasn’t Okemos, that Dansville beat…I was worried)

  8. Thank you for the article Greg and all the time you spent with us to get the facts last Saturday. I am very proud of my son, Scott, as well as my son-in-law, Derek, who is also a Marine and is married to Scott’s twin sister! Derek just returned from Iraq to his wife and their twin 9 month old boys!
    I can assure you Chris that both of these fine young men as well as their wives understand and fully except their commitments to the USMC and the USA!!! To bad more Americans don’t!

    GOD BLESS and SEMPER FI!!!!!!

  9. Greg (MVictors)

    @Rob Pethers
    Mr. Pethers – my pleasure. It’s hard to describe how impressed I was with Scott and certainly you had a hand in that. Well done. Thoughts and prayers for Scott as he heads out tomorrow.

  10. Chris,
    Having served 23 years in the military and still on active duty, I find your comments somewhat demeaning to Scott and his wife. My wife doesn’t agree with a lot of military policies we have dealt with over the years, but she certainly understands why the military does what it does. It hasn’t seemed to hurt us at all. I’m sure they both understand the commitment, that doesn’t making missing the birth of your first child any easier.
    Coincidentally, I grew up in Dansville. While I don’t have the pleasure of knowing Scott i’m proud of his decision to serve his country during this time. Dansville is a town of less than 500 and I applaud all of those men and women from there that join the military knowing that they may pay the ultimate sacrifice. Good luck and Semper FI Scott.
    @Chris

  11. Hi Scott F:

    I understand in today’s polarized, hypersensitive, politically correct society someone is always offended by something — sometimes people look for it and it’s inevitable.

    I am a vet too. I was a 13D in the Air Force <– the Air Force AFSC, *NOT* the Army 13D MOS; look it up if you doubt my qualifications or experience. I too missed more holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, etc. than I care to remember. I mention this not for someone to say thanks or to solicit pity, I'm not a hero, I just say it just to demonstrate I know what the heck I'm talking about.

    However, your post is an INCREDIBLE stretch of deductive reasoning. There is NOTHING in my post that was demeaning to Scott or his family. I never insulted him, used inappropriate language, or disparaged him and any way shape or form.

    In the article where Greg comments, "Scott told me that his wife Crystal understands the policy but doesn't really agree with it", that citation is potentially problematic and makes me wonder if that very young family is "truly" ready for what Scott is getting himself into. Well, they better learn to "agree" with it and accept it — fast. OPSEC always comes first. That's how people get to come home alive and enjoy that family they're missing so much.

    God bless him, but if Scott is indeed going out there with special forces, chances are he could be on the road over 200 days a year. That's not counting normal rotations of 12 – 24 months straight in and out of the sandbox nor the up to 2 years of training all over the country the Marine Corps may put him through after boot camp. Being 20 and married and expecting a kid is already hard enough. Adding combat to the mix creates pressures a lot of younger people are not aware of.

    That last sentence is the point I was trying to get across. When spouses accept the policies instead of disagreeing with them, it mitigates a lot of that additional stress. When service members have their head in the game, especially when one can hear bullets breaking the sound barrier as they whiz past their head, it increases their chances of coming home in one piece.

    I suspect both Greg and Mr. Pethers knew where I was coming from. I suggest you try to approach what I have said a lot less disingenuously and with a little more cogent thought.