Last Saturday was the first time ever the West Point Black Knights traveled to El Paso to play the UTEP Miners at the Sun Bowl. It was also the first time the team took the field, without their teammate Brandon Jackson.
News Channel 9’s Faran Fronczak sat down with two former West Point football players – stationed here at Fort Bliss – to talk about the tragedy, and learned the West Point football team, from past to present, are a true “Band of Brothers.”
This year’s ARMY Football entrance video says these simple words: "We are a brotherhood. We are committed to excellence. Bonded by duty, honor, and country. We are warriors."
Once West Point Black Knight warriors on the gridiron, 2nd Lieutenants Lamar Johnson-Harris and Mike Ugenyi are now warriors in the U.S. ARMY. “Being at west point is special because you go through experiences and events and you have your brothers basically going through them with you,” says Johnson-Harris.
Back in January, the two lieutenants were assigned to Fort Bliss – a place neither had ever been to. “ Meand mike talked about it a little bit earlier before we put our post in, and we kind of wanted to stick together, stick close,” says Johnson-Harris. Ugenyi says, “Me and LJ, we're close. We're basically like brothers."
It’s been 6-years since Ugenyi and Johnson-Harris met for the first time at West Point, but seeing the two interact, you’d think they’ve known each other a lifetime – finishing each other’s sentences, knowing each other’s corky habits… the things only brothers would know.
At Fort Bliss, West Point Football players are a tight knit group. Johnson-Harris says, "There's more than just us 2 out here. There's about 5 of our teammates out here from the class of 2015… There's probably more than 3 that are deployed."
When asked how often the two see their former teammates, Ugenyi says, “We used to work out together a lot but then our schedules started conflicting. yesterday we all got together, like 5 of us... Watched the game, talked about good times. Because in the last few weeks alone... A few kids... Well one of the kids from our class passed away."
On July 26th, former wide-receiver, #88 Mike Parros died during a training exercise at Fort Benning, Georgia. He was 21-years old.
Sunday, September 11th, defensive back #28 Brandon Jackson was killed in a tragic car accident, just 16-miles away from West Point. Jackson was just 20-years old.
“When times like this happen, you may not speak to them like our teammates since we've graduated, we all come back together just to support each other,’” says Johnson-Harris. Ugenyi says, "Mike was a great guy. real funny. Real smart... Yeah... I miss him."
For their brother Brandon Jackson, Johnson-Harris says, "You know Brandon came in right away and from what I heard, a star out the gate. A great kid... A great cadet... A great athlete. He was my position too. DB's we have an even tighter knit group because a lot times you're off on an island and it's just us."
Heavy hearts went into Saturday’s game. It was the first time the team took the field without Brandon. That’s why these two brothers, now at Fort Bliss, banded together. "We just started reaching out to our old teammates and talking to them, making sure they were alright. I mean we played with them, we sweat with them,” says Ugenyi.
"Basically, the experience that we learn, being teammates and going through all these hardships, they translate to the ARMY because you have those ups and downs as well,” says Johnson-Harris.
It was a bittersweet homecoming for the two Fort Bliss brothers – reuniting with their team, and alumni stationed around the world.
Ugenyi says, “Something bad happens, we all band together. Not only just fight through it, but see the happier side through it. So I think that's the biggest thing for our brotherhood."
Johnson-Harris says for last Saturday’s game, he was, “Just lookin' for the win m'am. This is the first time ARMY has been 2-0 since 1996."
That’s exactly what their brotherhood was given. The Black Knights won the game 66-14. A win these brothers say was the best way to honor their brothers lost… but never forgotten… Mike and Brandon.