Former Broken Arrow football player now tackling terrorism
BY BILL HAISTEN World Sports Writer
Monday, May 09, 2011
5/09/11 at 9:24 AM
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During the 1999 football season, as the senior starting center for the Broken Arrow High School team, Jason Armstrong says he was driven exclusively by two goals - to beat Union and to beat Jenks.
Beyond that, he says, "I was planning on playing college football and really had no plans otherwise."
But because he felt compelled to serve in the war on terror, he now is known as Army Sgt. Jason Armstrong, currently on deployment in Iraq with his Fort Riley, Kan.-based field artillery unit. He is the father of two children - 6-year-old daughter, Ruthie, and son, Jack, who turned 4 on Saturday.
Last week, when news bulletins reported that Navy SEALs Team 6 had killed Osama bin Laden, Armstrong was having lunch in Iraq. His wife, Mary Armstrong, was watching a movie in her Broken Arrow home when she received text-message alerts of bin Laden's demise.
Armstrong's mother, Patty Hardgraves of Broken Arrow, wasn't aware of the bin Laden story until she saw the chatter on Facebook.
Bin Laden and others with terrorism agendas affected millions of lives, including those of Jason, Mary and Patty.
After graduation from high school, Armstrong did construction work. On Sept. 11, 2001, when hijacked planes were flown into the World Trade Center towers, he was on a brick-laying project in south Tulsa.
Armstrong said he was profoundly affected by the 9/11 attacks, and Mary remembers his 2004 enlistment decision as having come "out of the blue."
"He walked into the recruiting office and said, 'Sign me up,'" Mary said. "Jason felt a responsibility to help protect our country."
A few weeks later, Mary and Jason were married.
"I felt like I wanted to earn my freedom," Armstrong said during a telephone interview. "I wanted to do my part. That's when I decided to go ahead and join. (U.S. military personnel) were over here in Iraq and Afghanistan, fighting for our freedom, and I felt like I wanted to do my part."
In 2006, during his first Iraqi tour, Armstrong was a gunner and involved in combat assignments.
"There were a lot of sleepless nights in 2006," Hardgraves said. "I talked to Jason on the phone this morning. We're able to talk nearly every day. When he went there in 2006, we didn't get to talk very often. It was difficult."
Armstrong described his reaction to President Barack Obama's confirmation that bin Laden had been killed in Pakistan.
"I saw it on the Armed Forces Network," said Armstrong, 30. "Everybody here is wrapped up in the mission we have here - advising and assisting the Iraqi army. We're heading forward and trying to see this thing through here in Iraq.
"So, with the (bin Laden announcement), I myself didn't see a lot of rejoicing here. We saw it, we read it and then we moved on."
If not for a twist of fate, Armstrong might now be a Naval officer.
In 2004, he said, "I was going to join the Navy first. I was in Tulsa, at (Woodland Hills Mall). The Navy recruiting station was over by Toys R Us. I decided, 'I'm going to (enlist) today.'
"I drove over there and the (Navy recruiting officials) were not in. They were at lunch. So I went to the Army recruiting office and said I wanted to join the Army."
As a Broken Arrow football player, the 5-foot-10 Armstrong weighed 260 pounds. Today, he weighs 196.
"We've got a physical fitness test and we have to uphold Army standards," he said. "They want us in shape. I'm a lot leaner."
Asked whether he plans to remain in the Army on a long-term career basis, Armstrong said, "I haven't made that decision yet. As the kids get older, and you're away from them with deployments like this one, and with my wife going to nursing school (at Oral Roberts University) ... it's going to be a family decision when it comes time, but I still have until 2013 on this contract."
Armstrong is scheduled to leave Iraq in November and should remain in the U.S. for at least a full year. Obviously, though, his status is subject to change: "It depends on what's going on in the world.
"Any place in the United States looks really pretty when I come home from Iraq," he said. "I love Oklahoma. No dust. No sand. I'm tired of the dust and sand and rocks."
During Armstrong's senior season at Broken Arrow, he sustained a shoulder injury. Mary was a sophomore and an athletic trainer who assisted with Jason's treatment.
"We got to know each other better," Mary recalls. "One day, he asked me out. And then he asked me to the prom. It was exciting, getting asked to the prom by a senior. We just wound up staying together."
Asked whether she was relieved that bin Laden had been shot by U.S. forces, Mary replied, "It doesn't mean that Jason gets to come home. I'm never really comfortable until he is home."
Original Print Headline: Former BA football player now tackling terrorism
Bill Haisten 918-581-8397
Army Sgt. Jason Armstrong: The former Broken Arrow football player is on deployment in Iraq because he wanted to earn his freedom.