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Chargers' Castillo awed by U.S. soldiers

Discussion in 'Chargers Fan Forum' started by Thumper, May 7, 2008.

  1. Thumper

    Thumper WHS

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    This article came out in March, but it's a good read.

    Chargers' Castillo awed by U.S. soldiers

    He finds NFL fans among troops fighting in Afghanistan.

    by MARCIA C. SMITH

    SAN DIEGO -- Since he was old enough to slip on his first football helmet, Luis Castillo knew war in only in metaphoric terms. There were the gridiron battles between the end zones, the guns flashed by quarterbacks, the bombs receivers caught and the missiles that linemen became when they launched themselves at the sides of dashing running backs.

    "War, real war," said Castillo, 24, the San Diego Chargers defensive end, "was completely foreign to me. It was something that I never wanted to imagine or even think about unless I had to hear about it in the news. Now, I think about it differently."

    Castillo was sitting inside Chargers headquarters last week, jet-lagged from his recent 12-day USO tour of U.S. military bases in Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan. On a handheld device, he toggled between e-mail messages from his new military buddies.

    "There was one guy in special forces, James, who was a Chargers fan," recalled Castillo. "He had this Bolts tattoo on his forearm. He knew my name before I shook his hand. He hasn't been home in years."

    Castillo grew quiet, the peace and splendor of his former NFL-only world now broken by what he has seen in the last few weeks.

    A month ago, Castillo couldn't have located on a globe, much less pronounced, either country. He never heard a war story. He didn't have any friends or family members in the military.

    Coming out of high school in Garfield, N.J., Castillo, a hulking Dominican with the athletic talent for NFL opportunity, remembered classmates who joined the military because they didn't have job plans, high grades or college tuition money.

    He wasn't one of them. He never knew a soldier, never had to think about becoming one. He didn't know much about the American conflict that by last Sunday claimed its 4,000th U.S. military casualty.

    Frankly, he didn't have to worry the war effort because football was all that mattered and his freedom was cause for another American's fight.

    He hadn't thought about that before.

    "Going over there was a life-changing experience," said Castillo, who made the NFL trip with Chicago Bears defensive tackle Tommie Harris and Carolina Panthers defensive end Mike Rucker. "I met men and women who have chosen to fight over there so that we don't have to see a tank roll down the streets back here at home."

    Castillo's first stop in the tour that involved nearly 20 flights by military plane and helicopter and long, winding-road rides in convoys was Manas Air Force Base in Bishkek, Krygyzstan. He couldn't believe the beauty of the terrain, the snow-capped mountain ranges and rivers that carved deep into the earth.

    It wasn't the desert depicted in news footage or video games. But it was a home for "real heroes, brave, respectful and honorable people who remind me that football is just a game," he said.

    Castillo sat in the cockpit of a C-17 cargo plane and watched the pilots put on Kevlar vests and slide bulletproof plates beneath their seats when they prepared to land at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.

    That was real -- life and death – unlike anything he experienced inside a stadium or even during his session in an Apache simulator.

    He got to fire an M4 assault rifle and felt his hands tremble after he put it down. He held an M249 squad automatic weapon and toured a Blackhawk.

    Danger never threatened him there as the NFL contingent traveled down secured roads to bases. Castillo didn't witness death. He didn't hear enemy gunfire. But he heard about the toll taken by war from a half-dozen special forces personnel who stayed up half the night trading stories with the football players.

    They sat in a barracks, cots at their backs, three NFL players who were discovering new respect for soldiers and six soldiers who had always wanted to meet professional athletes.

    They work on different sides of the world and opposite ends of fortune. But they bonded. They all knew about camaraderie, training, teamwork and the idea that, to win, you sometimes make sacrifices.

    "L.T. (Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson) got hit so hard in one game that we (the other Chargers) were cracking up about it after the game," Castillo told them.

    One of the soldiers, buckling over in laughter, knocked elbows with another and said, "Remember that time that we were in a foxhole and that grenade landed behind us!"

    Castillo was stunned by the humor of these men who were fighting a war in 70-day stints, surviving while friends died, crouching behind walls of dirt for 10-hour guns fights and blinking through exhaustion with their fingers firm against triggers.

    "James told me that it's not an easy life, but that Sundays during the NFL season made it all go faster," said Castillo. "On those days, they hop on the radio after their shift is done and call home to see how their teams did in the games. Then, all week they talk about who's better and who'll go to the Super Bowl."

    These soldiers were thanking Castillo. But after 12 days of being this close to war, Castillo knew he needed to be thanking them.
     
  2. RM24

    RM24 BoltTalker

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    Great story Thumper. Thanks for posting that. :flag:
     
  3. TheLash

    TheLash Well-Known Member

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    "Going over there was a life-changing experience," said Castillo, who made the NFL trip with Chicago Bears defensive tackle Tommie Harris and Carolina Panthers defensive end Mike Rucker. "I met men and women who have chosen to fight over there so that we don't have to see a tank roll down the streets back here at home."

    Great Article:tup:
     
  4. Retired Catholic

    Retired Catholic BoltTalker

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    War changes everyone and everything it touches, even indirectly.
     
  5. RM24

    RM24 BoltTalker

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    Yup, it's gonna be a WAR on Oct 12th against the Cheatriots! :icon_twisted:
     
  6. TheLash

    TheLash Well-Known Member

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