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|Friday, 17-Feb-2006 12:11
Sgt Wayne Norman and Sgt Brian Stokes - Warlord Alumni!
OK, I've been receiving e-mail about these two for quite some time. I didn't feel it was appropriate to cover their story while the guys were deployed but now I will. :P
Along with the stories there is a link below to a great radio interview. What a couple of knuckleheads! - JHD $-)
A New Kind of Battle
by Tommy Bowman (Winston-Salem Journal)
July 22, 2005
After two tours of duty in Iraq, a three-month football season doesn't seem so imposing for two Appalachian State players.
Wayne Norman and Brian Stokes, two strapping, 26-year-old freshmen, will take the field for the Mountaineers this fall.
"When we open the season against Eastern Kentucky, on each side of that kicker is going to be a Marine running down the middle of that field," Coach Jerry Moore of the Mountaineers said.
Having served four years in the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines, Norman and Stokes have endured experiences that few 18-year-old, fuzzy-faced freshmen could comprehend. They were shipped to Iraq in 2003 at the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom and returned last year as things were heating up in Faluja.
As TOW gunners, or anti-tank missile launchers, both progressed from driver to vehicle commander to squad leader, and both attained the rank of sergeant. Now both are living out their dream of playing college football.
They were applauded by the rest of the team when they were introduced last spring.
"As with anything, we've gained a lot of confidence by being over there," Stokes said. "You lead 25 troops in a firefight, that should tell you that you're capable of doing anything you want if you put your mind to it."
Or, as Norman put it: "I think it goes with that mentality of what doesn't kill you just makes you stronger."
Stokes, a Shrine Bowl selection from Burlington Williams High School, went to East Carolina in 1997 as an invited walk-on but tore a tendon in a finger and didn't play. Norman, a two-way starter in high school, enrolled at his home-state University of Massachusetts for a year.
Both faced financial hardship and left college after a year. They worked for a while, then joined the Marine Corps in 2000 with the intention of returning to college afterward with the aid of the GI Bill.
Norman and Stokes met at Camp Geiger right after basic training and hit it off immediately.
"I wound up having to borrow money from him the first day because I didn't know we had to go buy a bunch of stuff at the PX," Norman said.
In 2002, they began a nine-month deployment to Kosovo, Kenya and the United Arab Emirates. They wound up in Iraq in March of 2003 and stayed there 45 days.
"We were actually on our way back to Camp Lejeune when the war started," Norman said. "Everybody was pretty happy about that, and then it was, 'Guess what, we're turning the boat around.'"
Norman and Stokes said that their unit encountered little resistance once there, but that changed in a seven-month follow-up assignment beginning in March 2004. They encountered particularly heavy fighting when approaching Faluja.
"The second time, I couldn't count how many bullets I felt fly by," Stokes said. "We were in probably over 30 fire-fight engagements, and I don't know how many road-side bombings. And every day there was a mortar attack."
Stokes lost some of his hearing during one attack and has applied for a purple heart.
"A 100 kilogram bomb blew up about five feet from my armored truck," Stokes said. "The impact blew the 300-pound doors open."
Norman said: "The first time we got ambushed was so surreal. We had trained with blanks, and you're used to the sound, but it's definitely not the same. We were taking it from both sides of the road in pitch black. It was incredible. We were blessed that none of our guys got hit that day."
Both completed active duty last November, although they remain on reserve and could be recalled. Stokes, who had wanted to attend Appalachian out of high school, decided to pursue football again and confirmed that he would have at least two and possibly three years of eligibility remaining.
"I felt like it was something I left undone at ECU," Stokes said. "I wanted to come back and finish what I started and complete that dream."
Norman came with Stokes on a visit and was sold, too. "I figured it was like riding a bike," he said.
Stokes said: "I had forgotten what practice was like. I was really anxious to get that first hit, to see how it felt. As soon as I did, it was like, 'Yep, that's how it feels.' "
Norman (5-11, 215) nailed down a spot on punt coverage, and Stokes (6-1, 220) on both kickoff teams during spring drills.
"We know we're not going to go out and start right away, but maybe in a year or two we might learn the defense enough or the offensive schemes to be able to compete at that level," Stokes said.
Norman said: "It's a little bit physically demanding because we have aged a bit and we're competing with kids out of high school, but it's not that bad."
Not bad at all, Stokes said.
"We went from having such close friends in the Marines - people we went to war with - and that's what you miss the most when you leave," Stokes said. "We get here, try out for football in January and didn't know anybody, but now it's very similar to the same sort of brotherhood and camaraderie we had over there. I love being around these guys. It's a great bunch."
• Tommy Bowman can be reached at 727-7320 or at email@example.com
Original Page: http://GoASU.com/?page=202&article=4331&search=Brian%20Stokes%20and%20Wayne%20Norman&fromPage=431
Appalachian State Player Receives Purple Heart
by Aaron Beard (Associated Press)
February 16, 2006
BOONE, N.C. - Brian Stokes just wanted to fit in, even if he couldn’t help but stand out.
He wanted to be known more for serving as the wedge-buster on Appalachian State’s I-AA national championship team than being a veteran of two tours of duty in Iraq. Still, it was hard not to notice that U.S. Marine Corps patch on his Mountaineers’ jersey this season.
Now he stands out in another way: he recently received his Purple Heart for injuries received in a roadside bomb attack in 2004.
Stokes, 27, is proud of his time in the military and talks openly about his war experiences. But he sounds more eager to talk about being a student-athlete in this small college town nestled in the North Carolina mountains.
“I didn’t want to be an advertising campaign,” he said. “I wanted to play football again. That was my dream.”
Stokes played in 14 of 15 games for the Mountaineers, who beat Northern Iowa 21-16 in December for their first title, and finished with five tackles while playing on special teams and as a reserve tight end. His Purple Heart was officially issued in early December — the day before the national semifinals — and arrived last month at his mother’s home in Gibsonville.
It’s just the latest highlight in a rewarding few months for Stokes, who also appeared on “The Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson” on CBS days after the title game.
Many nights while serving overseas, Stokes would imagine playing football again.
“Of course, it’s way more than everything I hoped it could be,” he said.
Stokes was a sergeant in the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines Division out of Camp Lejeune on his second tour in Iraq when he was injured. The device went off as his armored vehicle led a squad near Lutayfiah, leaving him with shrapnel wounds in his right arm and hearing damage in his right ear — a condition that grew worse as his squad was involved in firefights and encountered about 30 other exploding roadside bombs.
“It’s a weird feeling,” he said of the explosion. “That’s why for a couple of seconds I was like, ’What just happened?’ You just feel the most extreme pressure on all parts of your body. ... It’s like everything was crushing in on every side of you, then all of a sudden, it was released and it felt like a vacuum after that.”
By the time he returned to the United States later that year, Stokes had taken part in more than 200 combat missions. And once he was back, he turned his attention toward football.
Stokes began as a walk-on at East Carolina in 1997, but left at the end of the semester due to an injury.
He then went to Elon, but his habit of partying too much followed him there and he flunked out of school after one semester, ultimately leading to his decision to join the Marines two years later.
Appalachian State had recruited Stokes out of high school, but his grades weren’t good enough. So his mother and grandfather visited coach Jerry Moore and admissions officials about Stokes enrolling after returning home, bringing Moore a letter from Stokes and showing a photo of him carrying a machine gun in front of an armored vehicle.
He was granted two years of eligibility by the NCAA and quickly earned the respect of the players. They greeted Stokes and fellow Marine Wayne Norman, who also served in Iraq, with applause when Moore introduced them at an offseason meeting in early 2005.
“It was a big moment for everybody,” said Moore, who completed his 17th season. “I felt chill bumps. It was for real, there wasn’t anything phony about it. These kids know it’s for real. They see something every day about Iraq.”
From there, Stokes tried to fit in. He talked about his military experiences when asked, but didn’t volunteer them. He concentrated on proving himself as a player to his teammates.
The most obvious way to tell Stokes was different was the Marines patch he and Norman wore at the behest of Moore. And in the season opener at Eastern Kentucky, Stokes assisted on a tackle on the opening kickoff.
“People can say ’We’re going to war on the field,”’ said Matt Isenhour, a junior offensive lineman. “You ain’t going to war. That guy’s been to war. When you think that we have a guy on our team who did two tours in Iraq, that is something special.”
Stokes, meanwhile, talks of his teammates like a surrogate family that fills the void after leaving the Marines. And he’s still adjusting to life at home, from dealing with occasional nightmares to attending the funeral of a Marine from his unit who was killed after Stokes left Iraq.
Days after returning home, Stokes had to leave a mall because he felt “paranoid” being around so many people without carrying a weapon for the first time. He admits to still swerving away from abandoned cars on the side of the road, a favorite place for insurgents to hide explosives in Iraq.
But with each day that passes, Stokes hopes he’s becoming known more as a football player.
“You can’t just take the respect you earned from something long ago and say, ’Well, that will carry me the rest of my life,”’ he said. “To me, it’s all great and everything, but that’s not what I’m here to do now.”
Original Page: http://GoASU.com/?page=202&article=6816&fromPage=8
Football player Stokes excels on and off the field
Tuesday, 14 February 2006
by CHRIS ZALUSKI
For Appalachian State football player Brian Stokes, the 2005 national championship was just one of the prestigious awards he won in December.
Although unknown to him at the time, the U.S. Marine Corps issued Stokes a Purple Heart Dec. 9 for injuries he suffered in Iraq in 2004.
Despite the award’s high esteem, Stokes did not find out about it until over a month later.
“I actually found out about it when it was delivered [in January],” Stokes said. “They didn’t call me or anything, I just got a UPS package at my mom’s house.”
Stokes admits that, although he suffered injuries, he had forgotten about the award since the incident had happened over a year ago.
During his four-year campaign in the Marines, Stokes had two separate tours of duty in Iraq.
In his most recent tour in 2004, he was in charge of one platoon consisting of six machine-gun equipped Humvees.
“We were basically a task force that was assigned to any mission you could think of,” Stokes said.
These missions included clearing houses, convoy security, recon and acting as the main support during firefights.
Stokes said he was involved in over total 400 combat missions, 20-30 of which were firefights.
“We would have four or five missions in one day,” he said. “They would start in the morning with explosive ordinance disposal [the clearing of roadside bombs] and then later on in afternoon we could be involved in a firefight.”
Of these firefights, Stokes said he was involved in the invasion of Fallujah.
Despite these dangerous missions, Stokes’ injury occurred during a day that resembled most others.
Stokes said his platoon was assigned to a recon mission and was driving along the road looking for roadside bombs.
“We went by a burned out vehicle and I was sitting there [in the passenger seat] and as soon as we passed it, I was like ‘thank God,’” Stokes said.
Stokes said whenever the platoon passed abandoned vehicles, they always worried there would be an explosion.
When Stokes’ gunner bent down from the turret to tell him something, the bomb in the abandoned vehicle went off.
“As soon as it went off, it was a huge explosion, we basically disappeared into a fireball,” Stokes said.
The explosion was so powerful that it ripped the Humvee’s 300-pound doors off, leaving Stokes exposed to shrapnel.
Though he did receive some minor injuries to his exposed arm, Stokes lost extensive hearing in his right ear.
Despite the injuries, they could have been much worse.
“If we would’ve been three feet back, then our whole truck would’ve been torn to pieces,” he said.
Looking back now, Stokes describes the award as “out of the blue” and had written it off prior to receiving it.
“It’s something that you definitely don’t want to have,” he said. “You don’t strive to get an award like that.”
Regardless of Stokes’ humble approach, many have said his duty in the Marines made him a better person, and player, at Appalachian.
“He’s been in the real world and he’s been facing life and death situations every day,” head football coach Jerry Moore said. “Our players have great respect for him.”
These past months have been an incredible journey for Stokes. From winning the national championship to receiving one of the highest honors in the Marines, Stokes has been living in the glory.
“I’ve definitely been blessed with a lot of different things,” Stokes said. “For any of these one events to happen to anybody, let alone all together, would be remarkable.”
Radio interview: http://www.goasu.com/?page=276&audio=445&fromPage=202
#1 - Special to The Appalachian
Appalachian football player and U.S. Marine Brian Stokes received the Purple Heart award in December for an injury during his duty in Iraq.
#2 - Jessica Hines
Stokes celebrates the National Championship victory with fans in December. A "Strength and Honor" sign is shown in support for Stokes.
Name: WAYNE NORMAN
Hometown: SPRINGFIELD, MASS.
High School: East Longmeadow
Last College: N/A
Height / Weight: 5-10 220
Birthdate: July 24, 1979
Name: BRIAN STOKES
Hometown: BURLINGTON, N.C.
High School: Williams
Last College: East Carolina
Height / Weight: 6-1 220
Birthdate: Nov. 24, 1978