SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- The U.S. Army All-American bowl pays homage to the top high school football players in the country, and who better to mentor them than veterans of our armed forces? Over 90 players and band members convened at the Alamo Dome with military personnel, such as Pepperell native and U.S. Army 95th Civil Affairs Brigade Capt. Shawn Jokinen.
Sports are a universal language, and are often used as a release by many from the everyday rigors of life. In Iraq, the people enjoy cricket and soccer, in America it is football and baseball. Jokinen and his 10 comrades from the United States Army Special Operations Command volunteered their time last week to mentor the 90 elite football players and band members from across the nation.
The All-Americans were selected on the grounds of their hard work and integrity. For one week they are members of the U.S. Army. Jokinen believes that the All-American week is about more than just football, but making a lasting impact on a young man's life.
"We had the opportunity to sit down with both the All-American band and players," said Jokinen. "We have been able to share stories about our experience, and their experience getting here. It's been pretty good interacting with the next generation. It's not about the army, it's about life."
Jokinen received the Bronze Star for Valor during his deployment to Afghanistan for his gutsy leadership of his unit while facing heavy enemy fire. Despite being wounded, Jokinen engaged in a firefight with an insurgent vehicle, which prevented the enemy from detonating an improvised explosive device that was attached to the vehicle. Jokinen received his second Purple Heart while serving in the Khost Province of Iraq when a roadside bomb detonated under the vehicle Jokinen's unit was traveling in.
The 33-year-old Jokinen returns to his hometown of Pepperell whenever he has the opportunity, as his mother, Aurora, and father, Steven, still call the community home. Jokinen moved from Pepperell when he was in middle school, and settled in Vero Beach, Fla., with his family, where he played football and soccer, at Sebastian River High School.
During the week, each soldier receives a player or band member at random whom they are assigned to mentor during the week. Jokinen was connected with Dorian O'Daniel. O'Daniel is a six-foot-one, 201 lb. inside linebacker from Our Lady of Good Counsel High School in Maryland, who has committed to play collegiately for Clemson University.
"The reason I have stayed in the military for over 15 years has been the teamwork and the bonding with my fellow soldiers," said Jokinen. "Teamwork is something these players have; they have a strong bond with each other. These players are the top in the U.S. I am a member of USASOC, which is a group of premier soldiers, these players are premier players, and we share that common bond."
The East went on to win a defensive struggle over the West, 15-8, in front of a record crowd of 40,133. Jokinen received his bachelor's degree in finance from UMass Lowell and recently completed his master's degree at Norwich University this summer.
"It has been a good opportunity to get away from where I have been stationed and be here to enjoy football and do some coaching and mentoring," said Jokinen. "I am anxious to get back to my family, but the Army has been a pretty good experience."