Nate Peterson: A True American Hero

Tuesday was Veteran's Day, and we had former All-Big 12 Oklahoma State defensive end Nathan Peterson on our show, Sportstalk with Robert Allen and Friends. Nate is now an OSU graduate assistant coach that came back to OSU after serving several tours as a 1st Lieutenant in the United State Marine Corps in Afghanistan. Peterson is now married and has a son that is just over 1 year old.

You have said it is strange to you to respond to those people that come up and say thank you for your service as a veteran. I understand you are a humble guy, but can you explain that feeling?
Peterson: When people generally come up and tell you thank you then you feel weird saying, "you're welcome," because the friends of mine and the people I served with we kind of just considered it the job that we do and we volunteered to do it and you don't look it as if you are doing somebody a favor. I mean we appreciate it when people say it, but it is kind of awkward to have people say thank you because I think everybody that does it and is uniform is happy to do it and willing to do it.

Okay, you were playing at Oklahoma State and then not long after you finished your career and your college education with a degree in management, the next thing I hear you are at Quantico and going through Officer Training School for the Marines. What struck that nerve to cause you to serve?
Peterson: I think it kind of started with me when my girlfriend, and now my wife, I met one of her friends. We went to her wedding and we went to that. He was home and on leave for about a week or two between deployments and that was the time when the war in Iraq was going on. That was my first time to meet him and he became a real good friend of mine.

It kind of hit me and I was coming home from bowl practice to the wedding. It kind of hit me that this guy is going back on back to back deployments, he's my age, and all I'm worried about is football and how lucky I am. I'm not any better than this guy and he is putting his life on the line. I don't know why that kind of stuck with me but I think it is easy for college athletes to get so wrapped up in your own life, your sport because that is what you are doing all year.

It is kind of easy to lose track of what is going on in the world and that kind of opened my eyes to what was really going on in Iraq and Afghanistan. At that time the wars were far from over and I think in the long run we are still kind of a long way off. I think it is going to go on for years. Meeting him and becoming more aware is kind of what ate at me and after I got done playing it was still there and I thought that if I don't do something about this it is going to eat away at me. It was something I thought I would regret for a long time.

We've talked about the movies and the feeling of combat. You have said it is pretty close but you also have been careful in your conversation not to glorify it.
Peterson: The movies (like Lone Survivor), obviously, are a very different dynamic with four-man teams and we were in platoons of 12 men squads and there were three squads in our platoon. They were up in the mountains and we weren't. When you talk about things that happen and it opens your eyes really fast. Your guys are out patrolling all the time and nothing happens, nothing happens, and then all of a sudden it kicks off and the first time that I had an eye opening experience was after everything was done and I thought, "That could have been bad."

I think the important thing is you don't let it have time to sink in because you are constantly having to work and having to get the people around you to work. If you thought about it too much then you probably wouldn't be doing your job. I think that was something that our platoon was really good at and that was when something bad happened we would think about it for a few minutes but then pick and get their job going. I was lucky to have that group of guys to work with and that was the reason we were successful.

Here is a tough question. In 20 some odd years your son comes to you and says, "Dad, I want to join the Marines. I want to serve my country." How tough will that be?
Peterson: I think that will be pretty difficult and I know it was tough for my family, but at the same time I don't think I would have the right to say anything to him other than to be supportive because that would be hypocritical. I would be very proud of him. I wouldn't have him do it necessarily, but he would have to worry about my wife (his mother), that is who he would have to worry about. She would be the one bringing the hammer on that issue.

As she should, as every mother should.

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