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Heroes and Patriots
By Rob McIlvaine

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Former NFL Player Considers Soldiers His Third Family
(November 29, 2009)

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FORT LEWIS, Wash. (Army News Service, Nov. 24, 2009) -- No movie has been made of Otis Sistrunk's life, although he has acted in a few, including “Car Wash,” a 1976 comedy produced by Universal Pictures. A book was written once, but Otis said the publishers in New York told him there wasn't any “dirt” in his life to make it something that would sell.
Otis Sistrunk shows off his Super Bowl ring to the kids at North Fort Youth Center on Fort Lewis, Wash.
Otis Sistrunk shows off his Super Bowl ring to the kids at North Fort Youth Center on Fort Lewis, Wash.
But that's ok for Otis, now the Cowan & Memorial Stadium's Manager with MWR Sports at Fort Lewis, Wash. The only dirt he ever cared about was the dirt he's been playing football on since he was 5 and the only people he's ever cared about are his three families.

“The Soldiers are my third family,” Sistrunk said. “The other two are my own family of five children, all grown up and gone, and the Raiders,” Sistrunk said. He played his entire NFL career with the Raiders, including a Super Bowl XI win against the Minnesota Vikings. “32 to 14,” Sistrunk said with a smile.

Television fans, nation-wide, saw Sistrunk's steaming bald head from the sidelines on Monday Night Football, but now Soldiers and their families have the chance to get individual help from the pro with lifting free weights in body building and power lifting, nautilus equipment, team sports and basically raising the quality of life through physical fitness, eating right and staying fit.

Sistrunk talks about giving back to the Soldiers and their families, and one of the best ways, he said, is to get out to the schools where their children are and pass along the good word about staying in school and working hard at what you enjoy.

“It's not part of my job,” Sistrunk said, “it's part of my honor.”

The students at the North Fort Youth Center recently had a chance to meet their garrison's stadium manager who was named to the 1974 Pro Bowl.

“Anybody here a Raider's fan?” Sistrunk asked. Not many raised their hands.

“Anybody here watch the movie, Car Wash?” Nearly all the hands went up.

“Anybody here play football?” Many hands went up including one girl who says she plays both offense and defense.

“Having fun is one of the most important things in my life,” Sistrunk told the kids, “but the main thing you have to keep in mind is, stay in school. You should feel blessed to have the opportunity for both fun and school. Don't get a hard head, thinking you don't need it. It's important to remember that doing the right thing is the best thing.”

Sistrunk still thinks about his career that took him straight from high school and into the NFL, providing him opportunities most men his age didn't have in the late sixties and early seventies.

“You can't get into the NFL the way I got in,” Sistrunk said. “Now you have to go to college. So, that fact, coupled with the fact that I didn't go to Vietnam, I feel some guilt. Working with MWR gives me the chance to give back to the Soldiers.

Fort Lewis Soldiers have experienced a revolving door of deployments during the past eight years of persistent conflict. Many of his former players will call home to see how their families are doing, but Sistrunk feels a lot of pride when they also call over to the gym to see how everything's going. A few of his former players have even gone on to their own careers in the NFL.

“This is why, to me, working here at Fort Lewis is like working with my family,” Sistrunk said.

“We used to have 48 football teams here at Fort Lewis, but this year we're down to 24 teams because of the deployment cycle,” Sistrunk said. “I've worked with ten generals over the years, both here and at Fort Benning, and I've received a lot of respect because I played with the NFL. But it's MWR which has been really good to me over these years. We have the best programs and it's a plus for people thinking of joining the military,” Sistrunk said.

Sistrunk says it's the variety of programs he's been involved with that make the job so satisfying.

“I've worked with Special Olympics. In fact, we have the state championship meet here at Fort Lewis every year. We also have the Wounded Warrior Transition Center here and recently a group of wounded warriors came here from Colorado to show how to work with wheel chairs. And we have the programs for autistic kids and adults.

“This is why I won't retire from MWR,” Sistrunk said.

Born in Columbus, Georgia in 1946, Sistrunk went from high school first to the Pottstown, Pa., Firebirds and then to the semi—pro Continental Football League in 1969, where he played for the Norfolk, Va., Neptunes, the only team that stayed together throughout the five years of the league's existence. After three years, a Los Angeles Rams scout spotted Sistrunk and believed the 22-year-old could play for the NFL. During team practice, representatives of the Oakland Raiders successfully worked to bring Sistrunk to their team.

After retiring from the NFL, Sistrunk became a pro wrestler with the National Wrestling Alliance where he and his tag-team partner, Michael Hayes, won the NWA National Tag Team Championship in 1981.

“After that, I became a beer salesman for a few years,” Sistrunk said “and one of my stops was Fort Benning, where a colonel asked if I wanted to coach football on the base. At the time, they were playing college and semi-pro teams but they dropped it as soon as I started,” Sistrunk remembered, smiling.

He stayed on, first working in the gym and then managing the fitness center for nearly 14 years until transferring to Fort Lewis.

At a large base, like Fort Lewis, it's not just the Soldiers and their families, it's also the retired who want to continue working out.

“That's why I put in the Nautilus equipment. I had high school students wanting to work out and even younger groups, 13 to 15 who came in with their parents and wanting to know how to safely use the equipment. I had one 80-year-old retired first sergeant and his wife who wanted to work out together. I even have one class where you had to be over 65 to join. It's an honor to be around these people.

“And to keep up with them, I'm always looking for more activities.”

By Rob McIlvaine
FMWR Command Public Affairs
Copyright 2009

Reprinted from Army News Service

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