OSU fan in Iraq: 'My friends blew up a picture ... and took me to the game'

OSU fan in Iraq: 'My friends blew up a picture ... and took me to the game' »Play Video
"Cardboard" Kyle Nelson attends a tailgater while the real Spc. Nelsen serves in Iraq with the Oregon National Guard.

AL ASAD, Iraq -- No big screen TV. No live stream on the Internet. It is 2 a.m. in Al Asad, Iraq, and the Internet connection is so slow that CBS.com’s GameTracker can’t even produce a live stream of audio coverage of the latest Oregon State game.

Instead, Andrew Buck and Kyle Nelsen receive updates via text on the screen with little symbols popping across the field. They also check ESPN.com, which updates the scoring summary and team stats every 30 seconds.

“Our defense just gave up only a field goal,” Buck says, moving his hands energetically to illustrate his point. “We stopped them from getting a touch down. It’s 14 to three.”

He slaps his buddy Nelsen a high five after the first down. “It’s Oregon State’s ball on the ASU 40 with three minutes left to go in the half,” says Buck. “We’re going to go down and score again and make it 28 to three for a blowout.”

Gunner Spc. Nelsen, 24, of Beaverton, Ore., and Sgt. Buck, 26, a communications expert from Portland, Ore., of Delta Co., 2nd Battalion-162nd Infantry of the 41st Infantry Brigade Combat Team are Beavers fans a long way from Reser Stadium.

That doesn't calm their enthusiasm for the game. It does raise their frustration level.

“We’re finally winning, playing really decent here and we can’t keep track,” says Buck, forced to endlessly push refresh. “And the worst is when the Internet goes out and we have to wait until the next day to find out what happened.”

While college football fans fill stadium seats, local bars and comfy couches, Oregon soldiers spend the season deprived of live games, cold beer and television. In Iraq, the season will go by very slowly with discussions and Internet streams of games far away.

It’s frustrating for football fans when a great play occurs and the connection fails. “Then we go to bed sad,” says Buck, “and can’t sleep for the rest of the night.”

Buck and Nelsen pay at least $60 a month for Internet service. “It could be worse, we could be out here without any Internet,” says Buck.

Inside their Containerized Housing Unit, they sit in front of their computers, irritated by Internet delays -- but elated by Beaver touchdowns. Still, it’s hard to be enthusiastic when you can’t see the big hits, the tackles, fumble recoveries and interceptions.

“Normally we turn the volume up on this (computer) and watch other games on the TV,” says Nelsen.

Some Oregon soldiers in Iraq plan to head to Baghdad for a Civil War party when the Ducks meet Beavers Dec. 3. This is the first of five interviews with Pac-10 fans nowhere near a home game.


Why are you a Beaver fan?

Nelsen: My whole family is a fan of the Beavers. My aunts, uncles, cousins, my sister and her husband have gone to OSU.

Buck: Mostly because my cousin went to Oregon State and when I was on leave out of the Marine Corp I used to go down to Oregon State and watch games. I loved going to their games, fans were great, people were great, and everyone was great, really entertaining watching the Beavers, especially when they’re beating the Ducks.

What would you be doing back home this football season?

Nelsen: I’d probably be with friends and family watching the game. My friends blew up a picture of me, made it into cardboard and took me to the game.

They went around with the stands, the band, and cheerleaders took pictures with it. Apparently I had a great time.

What do you miss most about the games?

Nelsen: Tailgating. I love tailgating.

Have you missed any games while on a convoy?

Nelsen: I missed the very first game.

How many games have you watched in Iraq?

Buck: I’ve only watched zero actually, because none of them have been on TV, however I have listened to every one of them on the radio with my good buddy Kyle Nelsen.

How do you feel when Beaver games aren’t broadcasted on AFN (Armed Forces Network)?

Nelsen: I’d rather be there. I actually bought season tickets and I had to give them up this year because if I don’t buy them then I lose my seats so I had to sell them to a good friend.

Buck: It’s really sad, it hurts because they played two Duck games already and it’s just not the same, it’s not the same. I miss watching my Oregon State Beavers. My brother sends me pictures of the games he goes to and it makes me miss home even more.

How do you support the Beavers so far from home?

Buck: It’s (OSU baseball hat) camouflaged so that I can try and wear it with my uniform, but it usually doesn’t work because I get yelled at, it’s not authorized.

How do you like working and living with Duck fans?

Buck: It’s pretty entertaining. We get into lots of arguments and that’s a lot of fun. We make fun of each other. We even play the Civil War on video games and we (Beavers) usually win.

Cali Bagby embedded with the Oregon Army National Guard from the 41st Infantry for KVAL.com. Her work has been published in the Washington Post and the Eugene Weekly.
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