A Lion and a Patriot on the battle field
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Ewing, NJ... Most collegiate athletes spend their summers combing the beaches, earning some semester spending money, and training for their upcoming season. Who could blame them? They have the rest of their lives to work and establish career paths.
Andrew Mason (Freehold, NJ/Red Bank Catholic), an offensive lineman on The College of New Jersey football team, had a different set of objectives during the months of June and July. He was focused on “the rest of their lives,” engaging in military training at Fort Lewis, Washington that will prepare him to protect and care for his fellow countrymen. Mason took part in the Leader Development and Assessment Course (LDAC) which is the centerpiece of the U.S. Army’s ROTC program. The course totals 29 consecutive days of both training and testing in common soldier skills like physical fitness, land navigation, rifle marksmanship, grenades, first aid, radio procedures, field craft, and tactics. It is a mentally and physically grueling experience that typically serves as the final leg of the ROTC program before being commissioned.
“I was very happy to get out of there,” joked Mason when asked what his thoughts were once he
completed the course. “It was challenging, but very rewarding when you’ve completed the 29 days. You dread this LDAC monster for three years and to actually go there and do well was a big relief.”
Mason did very well. Standing at 6’ 4” 245 pounds he was the largest member of his unit. Mason finished in the top 18 percent of his class posting outstanding marks on his blue card (ROTC’s version of a report card). While it’s a leadership-based training program, cadets must learn to balance when to lead, when to follow, and when to adjust strategy and tactics based on the situation they encounter.
At LDAC, all the training of soldiering skills leads up to a simulated deployment to a fictional nation. The 2010 LDAC regiments were deployed to Atropia, said to be located in the Caucasus, where the inhabitants speak Spanish but have culture and customs decidedly similar those of Iraq and Afghanistan. In Atropia, the cadets' mission was to conduct peacekeeping operations while fighting an insurgency known as the SAPA (Southern Atropia People's Army) in order to stabilize the nation of Atropia. This "deployment" is a 10-day field training exercise during which the cadets run numerous combat missions each day, first with their squad and then as a small platoon, and spend the nights hidden in tactical patrol bases. They only have the clothes and equipment that they can carry on their backs, and receive resupply of only water and MRE's (Meals Ready to Eat) each day.
“Similar to when you’re preparing for a football game, the first thing we had to do was get to know our opponent,” noted Mason, who started nine games last season for the Lions. “We had to learn the background of the opponent and why they were fighting. We’d then encounter different scenarios like setting up an ambush, movement to contact, or interacting with civilians on the battlefield. The sergeants teach you to follow direction, but you also have to think on your feet.”
Mason will take direction from another field general this fall in head coach Eric Hamilton. While he could have graduated this summer, Mason decided to take advantage of a medical redshirt and play another season of football for TCNJ. The training at Fort Lewis has him in excellent shape from a cardiovascular standpoint, but as he pointed out, being in football shape is completely different for an offensive lineman.
“I’m a little bit behind coming into preseason camp,” said Mason, who along with co-captain Joseph Mecca, Jr. (Monmouth Jct., NJ/South Brunswick) lends veteran experience to the Lions offensive front. “I was keeping my weight down being out in the field, but playing offensive line I need to get my weight up or I’ll get pushed around.
“The training has made me a better leader. I’m more vocal and we’re a tight-knit group. All I care about is putting myself out there for our guys and how we’re going to work together to accomplish our goal,” he stated.
Mason would like nothing more than to end his football career with a New Jersey Athletic Conference championship and birth into the NCAA tournament. From there, he can turn his attention to his military career. He’ll receive notice in October regarding his branch and hopes to be serving in the Medical Service Corps. His father, Brian, is a doctor of physical therapy and his mom, Lisa, is an ER nurse practitioner so medicine is the bloodline. Looking ahead, Mason would like to pursue a career in hospital administration.
Military service is also in the family. Andrew’s grandfather, Ernest, was master technical sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps in World War II and won a Silver Star at Guadalcanal. His grandmother, Mary, was also in the marines, which is where his grandparents met. (You probably wouldn’t want to be late to the dinner table in that household.)
Considering the circumstances of our country being at war, it is a distinct possibility that Mason’s battlefield will shift from the grid iron to the front line. If that is the play call, he will be ready to protect and defend.
“Eventually I will be deployed and it’s not something I’m scared of, “explained Mason. “You do all this training and build up so much knowledge that it’s something you want to put into action if needed. I believe in national service. I think everyone should serve and give something back to your country.”