By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
Jan. 27, 2009 - As deployed U.S. troops pull up to their TV screens this weekend to watch the Arizona Cardinals take on the Pittsburgh Steelers during Super Bowl XLIII, there's likely to be a special sense of commemoration at Forward Operating Base Tillman in Afghanistan. The remote base in Afghanistan's Paktia province is named in memory of Army Sgt. Pat Tillman.
Tillman was a three-year starter for the Cardinals, but left the team before the 2002 season to join the Army after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He became an Army Ranger and deployed to Afghanistan, where he was killed during a highly publicized friendly-fire incident in April 2004.
Only two of the Cardinals headed for Tampa for the Super Bowl were Tillman's teammates. But Adrian Wilson, a rookie during Tillman's final season, told the New York Daily News Tillman's memory lives on. "He's not a forgotten man," he said. "He's an inspiration for the whole organization."
The Pat Tillman Memorial erected near the stadium includes an 8-foot-tall, 500-pound white bronze sculpture of Tillman and a circular reflection pond on the Pat Tillman Freedom Plaza that surrounds the stadium.
Half a world away, FOB Tillman stands as a more austere memorial to the fallen Ranger. A weathered sign at the entrance to the base bears his name.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who visited the base in 2007, said it reminded him of an Old West frontier town. "The area surrounding the base was desolate and forbidding," he said, but he noted that morale among the troops was high.
These troops, assigned to 2nd Battalion, 506th Infantry "White Currahees" Regiment, serve as a trip wire to Taliban infiltrators attempting to cross the Pakistan border, less than two miles to the east.
Army Maj. Jason Westbrock, the unit's executive officer, said he expects many of his soldiers to watch the Super Bowl, which will be broadcast live on American Forces Network. AFN-Afghanistan is coordinating with the Pentagon Channel to produce a video tribute to Tillman, and hopes to air it during the game.
But otherwise, Westbrock said, no commemorations or special arrangements are planned at FOB Tillman. Army Command Sgt. Maj. Robert Moss is working to get the FOB's sign replaced, but doesn't expect it to be ready in time for the Super Bowl, he said.
For most of the soldiers at FOB Tillman, Super Bowl Sunday will be just another duty day in the war on terror.