Chris Aiken: Spent five years in the Army and served two tours of duty in Iraq before joining the Appalachian State football team. Aiken served as a military policeman before becoming a defensive tackle. Read more
P.J. Byers: Penn State fullback is also a second-class petty officer (E-5) in the U.S. Navy. As a dive specialist, Byers did underwater submarine repairs and demolition of explosives at the Pearl Harbor Naval Station, and trained dolphins to find mines in San Diego. Read more
Laurie Coffey: The 1999 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy played forward on the basketball team and rowed for the varsity eight. As a lieutenant commander in the Navy, Coffey is a fighter pilot based at Naval Air Station Oceania in Virginia Beach. Read more
Brooke Cultra: Played guard for the U.S. Air Force Academy before graduating in 2009. A First Lieutenant, Cultra is based in Kaiserslautern, Germany as a contract manager. Read more
Alex McGuire: Played guard for the U.S. Military Academy before graduating in 2009. She is now a First Lieutenant stationed in Schweinfurt, Germany and currently deployed to Forward Operating Base Sharana in Afghanistan. Read more
Very few collegiate sports were held in 1918, when America and the world was gripped by a flu pandemic and World War I. As Michigan and Pitt were on the way to sharing the NCAA football crown, the nation turned its attention to the armistice ending hostilities between Germany and the Allied forces on the Western Front. The armistice itself took effect on the "eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month" of 1918. A year later on Nov. 11, 1919, the first Armistice Day was celebrated to commemorate the sacrifices of veterans in World War I. Veterans Day, which now honors all veterans, replaced Armistice Day in 1954.
As Veterans Day 2011 approaches nearly a century later, the intersection of collegiate sports and the military is more pronounced.
Student-athletes at military academies leave as commissioned officers, many serving in combat around the world. Meanwhile, veterans, many in peak physical condition, return to traditional campuses as student-athletes in peak physical condition, and as seasoned leaders with a balanced perspective on life.
By Michelle Hiskey
Both the military and elite sports attract those who constantly reach for greater challenge. Brooke Cultra likes to push herself, and the U.S. Air Force has given her a year-round arena to do so.
As an undergraduate who played guard for the Falcons, she discovered that no off-season exists at a military academy.
“While there is the option to take a few weeks of leave, the majority of the cadet summer is spent doing other programs—soaring, jump, basic cadet training, Operation Air Force, language immersion, etc. So even during the summer, student-athletes at the Academy have to juggle training for their sport with other military and academic responsibilities.
“Establishing priorities and finding the right balance—mentally, physically, and spiritually, through the constant demands and time restraints of daily life, are unique obstacles to pursuing a sport at a service academy.”
After graduating in 2009, Cultra entered the Air Force as an officer. Now 24, she is a contract manager/first lieutenant stationed at Kaiserslautern, Germany.
“My experience as an NCAA student-athlete pushed me outside my comfort zone, and helped me grow in ways I wouldn’t have otherwise,” Cultra wrote in an email from Germany. “I think I was [mistaken] as a student-athlete in thinking life after the Academy would slow down—it hasn’t. The balance and time management that I had to learn as a student-athlete is just as important now as it was then.”
Brooke Cultra (center) played guard for the U.S. Air Force Academy before graduating in 2009. A First Lieutenant, Cultra is based in Kaiserslautern, Germany as a contract manager. The photo was taken this past July at the opening ceremonies for the Military World Games in Rio de Janeiro. Also pictured: 2dLt Michelle Harrington (left) who played on the indoor volleyball team, and women’s beach volleyball coach Maria Stutsman y Marquez. Photo courtesy of Michelle Harrington
Her military career would not have been possible without basketball. Not only was she recruited for her sport, but once at the academy, her coaches and teammates pulled her through the days when she worried that “maybe I wasn’t cut out for life in the military.”
Today, while her best military friends are from her undergraduate basketball team, travel has stretched her athleticism. The area around Ramstein Air Force Base has a strong volleyball presence, and Cultra says she “was able to play for the All-Air Force and Armed Forces teams, which gave me a great avenue to channel my competitiveness.”
Like other military athletes, Cultra recognizes her inclusion on two teams – one for sports, the other for country.
“There’s something special about representing a branch of service and our military in athletic competition that’s hard to put into words,” she said. “You’re playing for a bigger team, and it’s really an honor.”