State of the Hogs: Soldier Visit

Getting Razorback info was one of Zac Ritter's goals during his furlough from Iraq -- along with a visit to his third grade pen pals in Rogers.

I lived out of state for 14 years. That was pre-cell, pre-Internet.

Finding out about the Razorbacks was not always easy. There were no daily doses on the Hogs.

In no way was it anything like Zac Ritter's world as he tried to keep up with the Hogs from Baghdad last fall.

There are ways to find out about all things Razorback even from Iraq, even if you are in Special Operations with the U.S. Army and working long, grueling shifts. There's just a price to pay as far as fatigue.

"You can get some of the games on the Armed Forces Network, the big games that are on ESPN," Ritter said. "But that means staying up until the early morning hours because of the time change. Then you are worn out the entire day. If it was the Florida or LSU game, the end might take a lot out of you, then you have to go to work."

Of course, the work is tough. Days are long. Basically, the temperatures are nasty hot.

Corporal Ritter has a chance to catch up for two weeks. The Fayetteville native is home on furlough. He asked Razorback questions on the drive back from Rogers this week after I ran him up to Westside Elementary School where he met with third graders from two classes, his pen pals this past fall. Teachers Sarah Henry, my daughter, and Monica Bray had their students write Ritter and the rest of his reserve unit.

The soldiers sent personal notes back to each student. He wanted to make a surprise Westside visit during his furlough as thanks.

Zack wanted to know about the changes in the UA football coaching staff, recruiting and the state of the basketball team. What in the world happened to put so many hoopsters on suspension during the first semester? How is recruiting? How will the Hogs do against Florida? There were follow-ups.

I wish I had answered his questions as well as he took care of an hour's worth of third grade questions. He finished by drawing illustrations of the bullets for three types of weapons he carries in Iraq. No, he had not shot at anyone during his Iraq tour.

The Rogers students were most fascinated with part of his mission, visiting elementary students in Iraq to ease tensions and explain events. Boys go to school in the morning, girls in the afternoons.

The Baghdad students ask for candy as soon as Ritter arrives. In most situations, they have hardly anything. The Rogers students decided after Ritter's visit they would now begin to send boxes of candy to Ritter for the kids, along with more letters for the Arkansas troops.

I sent a package early in the fall. I figured some historical material might be easier than trying to provide current info. I sent every book from my own Razorback library, along with DVDs from the classic Razorback games of the last 50 years. Most of Zack's unit is comprised of Razorback fans.

They devoured that package.

That stuff is worthless on his visits to schools in Baghdad. They'd rather have candy -- or a soccer ball. Zac grew up playing soccer, so he can join in the constant games in the streets or fields outside the schools.

"You see a young boy, they immediately raise their hands above their heads in a motion like they are holding a soccer ball," he told the Rogers third graders. "They want you to give them a soccer ball. It's like gold to them."

Many of the Rogers third graders nodded their heads. They play soccer, too. You could see their minds working. Zac may be pumping up some soccer balls from his next care package.

Hawgs Daily Top Stories