By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Saturday is a big day for University of Iowa freshman quarterback Peyton Mansell.
So is Sunday.
On Saturday, Mansell and the Hawkeye football team search for a seventh victory on the season against Big Ten West-leading Northwestern.
Sunday is Veterans Day.
Mansell’s mother and father, Kim and Mike, met at West Point, where Kim played basketball and Mike played hockey. Kim got out of the Army after a five-year commitment from 1996-2001 and is now executive pastor at Christian Life Church with campuses in Temple and Killeen, Texas. Mike is a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army, serving as a dentist.
“Veterans Day is a special day because it is amazing I was blessed to have both parents be in the military and then have both still here with me,” Peyton said. “I grew up around military families, so when Fourth of July and Veterans Day come around, you are surrounded by people who have that connection. Living 15 minutes from Fort Hood (located in Killeen, Texas), about 60 percent of the kids in my school had military connections.”
Kim, who is originally from Minnesota, and Mike, who is from Buffalo, New York, have moved 15 times during their 22 years of marriage. From the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York, came stops (some more than once) at Fort Huachuca (in southeast Arizona), Korea, Fort Carson (in Colorado, where Peyton was born), Fort Bliss (in El Paso, Texas), Fort Hood, and Germany.
While deployed in Germany, Mike spent nearly four months in Romania on a joint assignment with other military. He also spent nearly six months on a medical humanitarian mission in Honduras, Guatemala, and Belize.
Both Kim and Mike were pre-law majors at West Point and originally worked in military intelligence. Between stops at Fort Bliss and Fort Hood, Mike was accepted to dental school at the University of Buffalo.
“I liked the atmosphere and the discipline of West Point,” Mike said. “It matched up well, but it wasn’t a lifelong career aspiration that I had to be in the military. It kind of worked out that way.”
For Peyton, there were pros and cons to being part of a military family. Pro: he had an opportunity to travel, experience different cultures, and see the world. Con: life was uprooted approximately every three years.
But if not for the military, Peyton might have become a Division I ice hockey player instead of a Division I quarterback. When he was in kindergarten in Buffalo, Peyton enjoyed hockey.
“He was actually pretty good,” Mike recalls.
Then the Mansells moved from New York to Texas.
“My dad said, ‘You’re probably not going to play hockey here,'” Peyton said. “So, I got into football when I lived in Texas; I started playing soccer, basketball, played everything. Then we moved to Germany and I played football on post with military kids and we would play against other military posts.”
Even with military parents, the thought of Peyton following in their footsteps never crossed his mind.
“It’s not something for the faint of heart,” Peyton said. “Once you’re in, you’re in.”
“I learned pretty quickly it is something you have to want to do,” Mike said. “We wanted Peyton to go where he wanted and where he felt comfortable. If he wanted to go to West Point, we would have supported him. We never pushed him to go anywhere, we let God show him where it’s at and it led him to Iowa. We were not expecting that, either, but it worked out well.”
Kim, Mike and Peyton’s sister (who is a freshman at Belton High School) will spend plenty of family time this weekend when they make the 14-hour drive from Belton, Texas, to Iowa City, Iowa, for the Hawkeyes’ Military Appreciation Game against Northwestern.
The weekend will have extra significance for the Mansells.
“It’s a time to remember the sacrifice that your classmates (at West Point) and everyone else has given for the country,” Mike said. “It’s a reminder and wakeup call that this is what we do — we fight to defend our country and luckily, I haven’t had to make that sacrifice, but we have known a lot of people that have.
“It is a good reminder to reach back out to those families and say, ‘Hey, we haven’t forgotten.’ It is a little bit of a downer of a holiday, but at the same time it is a good one, because it is easy to get caught up and forget about everything else that is going on on the other side of the world.”
For many years, Iowa has celebrated military members, past and present, at the football game closest to Veterans Day. On Saturday, military vehicles will be in Krause Family Plaza, a large American flag will be held by more than 100 Reserve Office Training Corps and veterans, there will be two military hero presentations as well as a pregame flyover.
“With my background in church, I always think about, only two people ever volunteered to die for someone else and that was Jesus and the soldier,” Kim said. “When people sign up for military, they are willing to give everything. Some do give everything, fortunately a majority of the people don’t have to lay their lives down for the country.
“The sacrifice and the selfless service that veterans have given over the years is what makes this country so great. They don’t do it for the paycheck, they do it for their love of this country and for other people.”