One by one, the 4th Infantry Division soldiers left their headquarters in Iraq, each placing a hand on a UMHB football jersey, a reminder of home.
Many soldiers of the 4th Infantry Division lost their lives fighting to bring peace to Iraq, a country in need. They fought proudly under the American flag and were reminded of UMHB’s support every time they saw the purple and gold jersey hanging on the wall.
Recently, these soldiers were welcomed back to Texas by UMHB athletes, cheerleaders and others.
Then on Feb. 25 at the Anderson Fieldhouse on campus, Commander of the 4th ID Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Hammond returned the gift given to him in September 2007 by the athletic program. The shirt which served as an inspiration to his troops, was rededicated to the football team in honor of the families and 94 soldiers of the 4th ID who lost their lives.
Hammond’s relationship with head football coach Pete Fredenburg began when he played under him at Louisiana State University.
After seeing Hammond years later at a golf tournament in Fort Hood, Fredenburg invited him to give a pre-game speech to the university football team. It was the beginning of a fruitful relationship between the general and the UMHB football program.
The jersey dedication was an emotional gathering of about 50 people, including football players and coaches along with university officials and President Dr. Jerry Bawcom.
“I just want to bring this jersey back to its rightful owners and tell you how grateful 4th ID and our families are of each of you,” Hammond said, “You’re living the dream. You’re playing football. You’re going to school. You’re getting an education. You’re going to make us all proud one day long into the future, but you sure made us proud over the year.”
Fredenburg replied to Hammond. “Thank you for allowing all of us to share this with you. It has been very special ever since your first visit here. We will hang this, General Hammond, in a place of honor where football players for years to come will know what the sacrifices of those 94 soldiers meant to you and your soldiers and our football program. It has been a real honor to know you, and we cherish and honor your successes.”
Hammond also addressed Bawcom and recognized the job he has done as president.
“Sir, thank you for running such a magnificent university where kids have the freedom to learn and fulfill their dreams,” he said, “Kids like this can play football and have such great leadership in their coaching staff. If I could do it all over again, I would come here.”
Bawcom expressed gratitude for representing the university through their difficult situations Hammond and his troops encountered.
“It means a lot to us to know that in the midst of what you were facing, you were thinking of us from time to time.”
Hammond will be progressing to the next stage of his career with the Army, but will not forget about the university in the middle of central Texas.
He said, “I am going to be moving on to the Pentagon, but my heart will always be here at Mary Hardin-Baylor,” to which Fredenburg replied, “God bless you.”
Fredenburg spoke highly of Hammond.
“I think the thing that is the most inspiring is just the commitment and service to this country and to realize that he is truly a patriot,” he said.
Fredenburg will decide where the jersey should be placed in the coming weeks.
The head coach also noted the significance of the gift.
“It means so much,” Fredenburg said, “We are going to immortalize it and recognize the impact it made on soldiers in Iraq. When we see it, we recognize the incredible sacrifice that soldiers make for our freedom.”