Former WSU coach hits the real trenches

FORMER WASHINGTON State defensive coordinator Robb Akey flew to Afghanistan hoping to lift the spirits of American service personnel and private contractors fighting a war. He came home with his own spirits -- and pride in America -- boosted substantially. "We take for granted so much," said Akey, who is entering his third season as head coach at Idaho. "How we wake up every day free."

Akey, a high-octane presence on the Cougar sidelines under Mike Price and Bill Doba, returned to Moscow last week after touring military bases and hospitals in Afghanistan for six days. Akey was joined by four other college football coaches: Montana's Bobby Hauck, Rice's David Bailiff, James Madison's Mickey Matthews and Army co-defensive coordinator Chris Smeland.

The Vandals won just three of 24 games in Akey's two years at the helm, but Idaho's football record was the last thing on Akey's mind in Afghanistan. Travel plans had to be altered on occasion due to fatal war battles nearby.

"We're playing a game," Akey said. "They're fighting for their lives."

Akey said he was amazed by the pride, teamwork and courage of Americans fighting the war in trying conditions that include temperatures often soaring past 110 degrees.

"I'm dying for some kid to tell me it's going to be hot here during two-a-days," Akey mused.

Akey said the determination of U.S. military personnel was impressive.

"They couldn't wait to do their jobs every day ... I wish the people here could understand what these people are doing for us."

Akey said he tried to convey his appreciation to a fighter pilot.

"He said, ‘I really want to thank you guys for being here. I can't tell you how much it means to us ..."

Akey said he was grateful for the opportunity to do his small part to help the men and women serving their country.

"You tell them ‘Thank you,' and their eyes start to sparkle, and they start talking about home," Akey said. "It's kind of like a little escape for them for a brief period of time."

Akey said he has stayed in contact with people he visited overseas, including some with ties to the University of Idaho and WSU. Akey said the people he met always have a sideline pass waiting for them for Vandal games and an open invitation to deliver a pep talk.

"They have to rely on each other or they could die," Akey noted. "That's one of the beautiful things about athletics; we have the opportunity to teach life lessons without the same risk involved.

"We could lose a game. A guy could fall ineligible if he didn't get his grades done.

"If they screw up out there (in a war), they or their partner could lose their life. And they're doing it for the freedom of our country."

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