A Navy Midshipmen Leaves One Battlefield for Another

By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 11, 2009

The choice was obvious. Who should lead the Navy football team onto the field inside a packed Ohio Stadium last Saturday afternoon, proudly holding the American flag aloft? Senior Cameron Marshall, of course. The special teams player and third-string defensive end. The 26-year-old former Marine sergeant.

"It's an immense honor," Marshall said. "Holding that flag -- it feels like you're holding the country in your hands."

Marshall does not say that lightly. He spent four years in the Marine Corps and served two tours in Iraq before attending the Naval Academy. About 7 percent of the brigade is "prior enlisted," or has already served in the Navy, Marine Corps, Army Reserve or Air National Guard. Marshall is the only one on the football team.

That experience has made him one of the leaders of the Midshipmen (0-1), who host Louisiana Tech on Saturday. For Marshall, football and the military are inextricably tied together. Football prepared him for the Marines. He helps his teammates understand what lies ahead for them after the academy.

"Some people hesitate and cringe whenever you draw parallels from football to combat," Marshall said. "While I see their point, I think that it's irresponsible not to acknowledge the similarities between them. I think America fights its wars like its football games. We love the tactics; we love big force-on-force battles. . . .

"There's certainly a reason why General [George C.] Marshall said: 'I'm looking for a man for a secret and dangerous mission. I'm looking for a West Point football player.' Football is how we train young men for battle, whether we like to admit it or not."

* * *

On Sept. 11, 2001, Marshall watched on television with the rest of the world as the events in New York, Arlington and Pennsylvania unfolded. The following day, he went to a Marine Corps recruiting office and signed up. He was an 18-year-old senior at Broomfield High School, just outside Denver. Three days after graduating, he left for Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego.

Marshall had always been fascinated by the military. When he was a child, he was particularly interested in snipers and even fashioned his own heavy-camouflage ghillie suit that he wore on family camping trips. After 9/11, there was no question about what he was going to do.

"I think everybody reacted in their own different way to that kind of horror. For me, it always felt very personal," Marshall said. "I had always felt like I was going to be a warrior somehow, someway. As soon as [the attacks] happened, I remember thinking to myself: 'The military is gearing up right now and I should be there. That's where I belong.' "

"He's definitely a patriot in the old-fashioned sense of the word," said his father, Rich.

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