- Associated Press - Saturday, May 10, 2014

COLUMBUS, Ga. (AP) - As they piled back into the sport utility vehicle after a day touring Fort Benning, AJ McCarron and Kevin Norwood clutched the same books to their chests: the Bible and “The Purpose Driven Life.”

The two former Alabama football players grabbed copies of each as they walked into a supply room during Monday’s tour.

They spoke Monday night at the spring meeting of the Russell-Muscogee Chapter of the University of Alabama Alumni and Friends at the Green Island Country Club.

Each took the books for the same reason: They wanted to feel closer to the soldiers.

For McCarron, he hoped it would allow him to relate, on some level, to the soldiers and the challenges they face.

“They read them and it helps them, so I always try to learn from different walks of life,” he said. “Everybody has a thing that helps them on their way, so it definitely means a lot when you get to meet other people and see what path they’ve taken.”

That many of these soldiers were the same age — or younger — than themselves was a sobering realization.

“I couldn’t imagine myself doing this because of the intense work ethic they have,” said Norwood, who is 24 years old. “When we came in, they showed us a chart of how many push ups and sit ups they have to do. And they have to do it in a certain amount of time. I’m not sure I could do that. You just have to be in really good shape.”

Norwood had once considered going into the military. As soon as his athletic career began to blossom, particularly in football, those thoughts disappeared. But his appreciation for those in the armed forces has never faded.

If anything, it’s only continued to grow as he’s gotten older.

“They’ve got to be prepared, day in and day out, for whatever happens. The world could end tomorrow, and they’re prepared. They’re ready to save lives — to save us,” Norwood said. “As far as football, we just have to prepare for a game. I wouldn’t say that’s nothing, but it’s less than what they do.”

McCarron felt the same way. Still, he couldn’t help but notice some irony during his interactions throughout the day. Whenever he struck up conversation with the troops, they were quick to compare their daily regimen to the structured nature of football.

“It’s the same thing with them,” McCarron said. “They have so much practice and repetition they go through leading up to a battle. (But) when you mess up, there’s no coming back. There’s no ‘redo.’”

It didn’t take much to get McCarron and Norwood to be on board for Monday’s visit. Norwood received an email asking if he’d be interested in participating.

He couldn’t respond quickly enough.

Story Continues →