As a result of conference realignment, the Army lacrosse team found itself with an open date on the last weekend in February. That weekend had been the Army-Syracuse game in recent years. Yet the Orange had to add an ACC opponent when it joined that conference for the 2014 season.
Everything worked out OK, at least for Army. And not all the highlights came from the Black Knights’ 12-2 victory over Furman at Catholic University on Saturday in Washington, D.C.
On Friday night, the teams from Army, Furman and Catholic gathered for dinner on Catholic’s campus and to hear two former Army lacrosse players tell their stories. They weren’t normal stories.
Capt. Erik Mineo and Capt. Ben Harrow played together at Army from 2002 to ’05. Both live near Washington now — Mineo in Baltimore and Harrow in Rockville, Md.
They have something else in common: Each was Special Forces, served his country with distinction in combat and came back with scars, visible and otherwise.
Mineo has battled numerous physical injuries, concussions and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Harrow lost both of his legs below the knee, plus two fingers, after being near an improvised explosive device (IED) when it exploded in May 2012.
The two spoke to the teams for 1 hour 15 minutes on Friday night as part of the Face-Off for a Cause initiative developed in part by the Wounded Warrior Project.
“It was both courageous and therapeutic for Erik and Benny to tell their stories. It’s not an easy task for 150 college kids to sit still and stay quiet,” says Adam Silva, chief development officer of Wounded Warrior Project. “But when Erik and Ben were talking, you could hear a pin drop.”
Mineo and Harrow each related his experience in combat to something he had learned in lacrosse.
Mineo, a face-off specialist, recalled the buildup to the Army-Cornell game in mid-March 2005. The Big Red were ranked No. 6 and the game was to be played on the edge of Army’s spring break.
Mineo said then-coach Jack Emmer met with his seniors (which included Mineo and Harrow) and asked them to make sure the team didn’t lose its focus with the impending spring break. Emmer impressed on the team that a lack of focus would mean a talented Cornell team would win handily.
The seniors used the mantra of “look to the man at your left, look to the man at your right, do your job, prevail” to make sure everyone was on the same page all week in practice and during the game. It worked. Army won, 11-9.
The lesson came in handy, Mineo said, when he led a group of Army Rangers into combat in Afghanistan. The firefight lasted 36 hours. Silva says Mineo told the troops, “Put everyone else out of your mind. Look to your left, look to your right, do your job, prevail.” The Rangers accomplished their mission while inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy.
In lacrosse, Harrow was a short-stick defensive midfielder who excelled in the clearing game. In the Army, he was a Green Beret who served his country in combat twice before going back in 2012.
On Friday night, he related losing both his legs to an IED and what it took to get him home to see his wife and young son and family and friends.
“He talked about his fight to stay alive,” Silva says. “He talked about his training in the weight room and on the lacrosse field and not wanting to let his guys down was what gave him his will to fight.
“He said the two things that helped him survive: One, he had amazing medical attention on the battlefield from his corpsman; and two, the doctors told him, ‘What kept you alive was your will to live and your willingness to fight.’”
The weekend was the brainchild of Brooks Singer, the coach at Division III Catholic, and former Army All-American attackman Steve Heller. Both are involved in Wounded Warrior initiatives aimed at lacrosse.
They approached Silva, himself the captain of the Army lacrosse team in 1993. And the trio found an equally enthusiastic audience in Army coach Joe Alberici and Furman coach Richie Meade.
And thus a potential bye weekend turned instead into something quite different.
“It was very inspiring,” Alberici said after the game of hearing Mineo and Harrow. “I think our guys really understood what this time in their life means to them. Erik and Benny really brought it home. The things you’re learning at the academy or things you’re learning in our lacrosse program — or any lacrosse program — are what these guys applied to save their lives.”
CPT Ben Harrow Working Out after injuries sustained in Afghanistan in May 2012. Visit www.hardlikeharrow.org to learn more about Ben and make a donation!