Pennsylvania soldiers show Penn State, Pennsylvania pride in Iraq

It is 6,000 miles from the Nittany Valley to the desert of Taji, Iraq. The soldiers of Pennsylvania’s 56th Stryker Brigade had to leave many important things behind when they were deployed in January, but the distance didn’t keep them from taking along their Penn State and Pennsylvania pride.

Spc. Dirk Omerzo, deployed with the rest of the brigade in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, painted a mural featuring the logos of Penn State and Pennsylvania’s professional sports teams. The mural covers 60 square feet and was painted outside of the dining hall at Camp Taji, north of Baghdad.

“As you can imagine, soldiers sacrifice many things while they are deployed, and cheering for their local teams is certainly one of those things most missed,” said Maj. Gen. Jessica Wright of the Pennsylvania National Guard in a letter addressed to Penn State President Graham Spanier. “Soldiers have been known to stay up until all hours of the night and early morning, due to the time difference, to watch [the Penn State football team] play.”

Wright said Penn State holds a special place in the soldiers’ hearts.

“Individual packing lists often include a favorite player’s jersey and other team memorabilia. Even if they can’t wear these items, just having them means a tremendous amount, as it brings a part of Pennsylvania to them,” Wright said. “Though you may not have been aware of the impact your team and its athletes play on the morale of our warriors, you continue to be a major contributor in support of our soldiers.”

Members of the 56th Stryker Brigade, based in Lancaster, will return to Pennsylvania in September.

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Last Updated November 18, 2010