Fort McCoy gives taste of real ‘war'

On this Memorial Day, Mark Murphy, Nick Collins, Jordy Nelson and Brady Poppinga have a stronger appreciation for our troops after watching a harrowing urban-warfare training mission. It's a Packer Report exclusive on this 161st annual celebration of the 1.2 million troops who have died for our country.

For many Americans, Memorial Day means a three-day weekend and a good excuse to gather around the grill with some brats and around a bonfire with some adult beverages.

On this 161st celebration of Memorial Day, a few members of the Green Bay Packers have a deeper understanding of this somber holiday.

During the recent Tailgate Tour, Packers President Mark Murphy, linebacker Brady Poppinga, receiver Jordy Nelson and safety Nick Collins visited Fort McCoy.

"It was great. Unbelievable," Murphy told Packer Report a couple of days later. "We had a chance to go with them on a training session and a chance to talk to them. They are about to be deployed to Afghanistan. So, we had a chance to talk to them and thank them for what they do for the country and the sacrifices that they make for us."

While at Fort McCoy — located in west-central Wisconsin and formed 100 years ago — the players got an up-close taste of what the 447th Military Police will be going through once they're deployed to Afghanistan. Murphy called it a "special" experience to see what most ordinary Americans will never experience.

"We got spoiled," said Nelson, calling the trip the highlight of the four-day Tailgate Tour. "We rode in a (humvee) and went down and watched their training. They were clearing out buildings if there's someone that they're after — a person of interest, they were calling it. They had a little town set up and they were going building to building.

"They were working on that because they were going over to Afghanistan in a couple of months. We were walking down the road and there's buildings here and buildings here, and they were going back and forth, shooting their guns with blanks, throwing bombs that are blanks. We were in the middle of the battle, so it was pretty cool. Then we got to hang out with them for a little bit. It was great to talk to them and tell them how much we appreciate what they do."

The appreciation, of course, is well-deserved. More than 1.2 million Americans have died in battle in our country's 232-year history. Almost 5,000 U.S. troops have died in the ongoing battles in Iraq and Afghanistan in keeping us safe since the 2001 terrorist attacks.

"It was great," Nelson said. "We just thanked them, obviously, for what they do for this country and the sacrifices they make with their family and time."

Collins, who was awestruck by his visit to Pearl Harbor while at the Pro Bowl in February, agreed.

Nick Collins signs autographs for troops at Fort McCoy.
Aaron Popkey/Courtesy Green Bay Packers

"Oh, man, it was awesome," Collins said. "We got the chance to visit with the troops and thank them for what they're doing for our country."

What they're doing is intense and requires bravery that most of us never will understand. It takes a tough guy to be a receiver like Nelson, who knows he's likely to be "blown up" — in football lingo — when catching the ball in front of a linebacker or safety. It takes a special person to enter a strange building, knowing he could be "blown up" in the all-too deadly sense of the phrase.

"It's not even comparable. I wouldn't even compare it to anything like that," Nelson said. "They're putting their life on the line for a lot of people, a lot of people they don't know. It's a great sacrifice that they make and it takes a great sacrifice to do it."

After watching the 447th's urban-warfare training mission, Murphy and the players mingled with the troops, handed out footballs and caps, and signed autographs.

"This is awesome, a great ending to our training here," Sgt. Kyle Jenkins, a Packers season-ticket holder who was born in Madison but lives in Chicago, told's Aaron Popkey during the event. "About 70 percent of my soldiers have never been deployed before, so this is a real charge for them."

The appreciation went both ways. It was a case of role reversal for the players.

"We were saying how we get put up on a pedestal, but obviously, it's an honor for us to be there," Nelson said. "It was more of an honor for us to be there than it should have been for them to see us."

"We get way too much credit," Collins added. "They need all the credit, because that's why we're able to have so much freedom is because of what they're doing across the sea."

Witnessing or experiencing something difficult and out of the ordinary adds "perspective" to people's lives. It's a cliché, but in this instance, it couldn't be any more true.

"They're risking their lives," Murphy said, "and we get all worried about losing a football game."

So, Happy Memorial Day, and a heartfelt thank you to those who made it — and are making it — possible.

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Bill also is giving Facebook and Twitter a try. Find him on Twitter at and Facebook.

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