LONDON (WTVM) - By Michael Molinaro
U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit
Seizing the opportunity to take a rest from the madness of the Olympic games, soldiers from the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit took time out to showcase the Army to the locals of Windsor, England on Aug. 8.
As part of an outreach program established by the U.S. Embassy in London, the soldiers traveled to the ancient town to receive a history lesson on British royalty while talking to kids about their Olympic and military experience.
"It's always fun to talk to youngsters and tell them all about what we do," said Sgt. 1st Class Jason Parker. "It's really neat when we get to do it in another country and educate them about the U.S., shooting sports and our Army. And a break from the Olympic village is always nice."
The soldiers first toured Windsor Castle, the official residence of the queen of England and the largest occupied castle in the world. A royal home and fortress for more than 900 years, the castle remains a working palace today. The Queen uses the castle both as a private home, where she usually spends the weekend, and as a royal residence at which she undertakes certain formal duties. Windsor Castle was originally built by William the Conqueror in the decade after the Norman conquest of 1066.
"Walking through the halls was eye-opening," Staff Sgt. Josh Richmond said. "You could feel the history dripping off the walls. There were so many swords, coats of armor, paintings — everything you think about when you go back to medieval times and the history of monarchs and royalty. I could have spent a few days in there soaking it all in"
Following the tour, the soldiers walked over to the Windsor and Royal Borough Museum to speak with local children about the Olympics. Even as London and surrounding towns such as Windsor are besieged with the Olympics, not all locals can afford to attend the expensive games.
"So many people don't get to go to the Olympics," said Alison Bauerlein, who works with the U.S. Embassy in London. "So we started this outreach program to bring Olympians to the people and allow them to talk about everything they have experienced with the Olympics and also allow the kids to ask them anything they want."
After a brief introduction, the soldiers talked about what it's like to live in the Olympic village, how much dedication it takes to be an Olympian, and their favorite foods in London. Richmond described the feeling of participating in his first opening ceremonies and walking next to Kobe Bryant while Parker discussed the shooting events at the Olympics.
"When I talk about the Olympic experience to anybody I always want to get across two things," Parker said. "One, that I am a regular person just like they are. And, two, that they can be an Olympian too. I am no different than Michael Phelps, except for the hardware, in that when I was young I had a dream and I chased that dream. It is so important for our youth all over the world to know that they can achieve their dreams if they set their mind to do it."
Besides talking about the Olympics, the kids were curious about the military background of the soldiers. Many of the questions pertained to their Army service.
"I think it was really cool that these Olympic athletes also protect their country," Hayley Jacobs, 16, of Maidenhead, said. "It sounds like they have a tough job doing everything that is asked of them, but they are really good at it. I am so glad they came here today."
As the London Games wind down and thousands of athletes revel in the fact that their work is complete and they can relax, the soldiers said that while they intend to see some other sports, their mission to tell the Army story trumps everything else.
"We showcase the Army on the national and world stage, competing and winning," Richmond said. "But what a lot of people don't realize is that when we travel internationally and meet men and women of all ages that may be their first encounter ever with an American, Soldier or not.
"We are handed the responsibility of representing our entire country and making that all-important first impression of an American to a lot of people. That is a big responsibility, but one I am very proud to have. An event like today is what makes being in the USAMU so unique and I love every second of it."