"I feel combat football is a great human relations tool. There is no race, creed or color once the game starts—you will see blacks on blacks, whites on whites. The player's allegiance is to his team, to his pride in his unit, not to his color. I think the game demonstrates fitness, and it builds aggressiveness and a fighting heart. You've got to have that as well as teamwork in battle. At the same time it burns off the kind of aggression that soldiers sometimes turn against local people when they are off duty."
This might seem an overly glib response, but the evidence is with Brooks. Schofield's notorious stockade, immortalized in James Jones' From Here to Eternity, still stands, and it can hold 101 prisoners if necessary. Last week there were just five. And in adjacent Wahiawa, the plantation town that has been a Schofield playground for half a century, Honolulu Police Major Roy Schmidt says, "I don't know whether it's because of that combat football, or just because they've got a tough guy over there, but in the last year fights between soldiers and locals have died down to just about nothing."
When Brooks, as assistant commander of the Second Infantry Division based at Camp Casey, 35 miles from Seoul, decided to adapt the ROK game, his goal was to provide an outlet for troops frustrated by garrison duty and denied access to the fleshly delights of Seoul, which was off limits. "In circumstances like that," Brooks says, "your outfit is in a sardine can. You can't afford to have them take out their frustrations on the local population." They took it out on their ROK mentors instead. "After the first game we had to change the rules," Brooks recalls. "Under ROK rules you could carry the ball over the goal line as well as kick or throw it in. Our troops not only went right through the goalies but through the nets, too."
As modified, the carry-over has been eliminated and two goalies occupy a six-by-nine-yard sanctuary directly in front of the net, where they may not be molested. After establishing the game in Hawaii, the general made another change. Originally there were 40 men to a side. He cut it to 30. "By the end of the first month of combat football," the general says, not without some relish, "I had 13 men in the hospital. Now the injury rate has dropped because the men have learned that getting in good shape is their best protection, and the referees have learned to blow a quick whistle when the ball is immobilized, trapped in a crowd of players. That's when injuries usually occur." The number of participants was reduced to give the officials better control, and to open up the running game. "Still," Brooks says, "it isn't the kind of game where even O.J. could go all the way." Maybe O.J. could and maybe he couldn't, but no one ever has.
No one has an exact estimate of how many soldiers have played CFB in their time in Hawaii, but at any given moment nearly 3,000 are on the squads of the Schofield teams. The fundamental GI right to bitch about command (any command) having been established in 1776, it is not surprising that some men are unhappy in their play. One soldier says, "I don't like this game and I only turn out for it because I have to." Combat football supposedly is played by volunteers, but an officer confides, "If an outfit can't dig up the necessary 30 men for a scheduled game, the first sergeant is likely to volunteer a few people who haven't volunteered themselves."
But at half a dozen games last month, very few critics could be found of Brooks or combat football. The division includes a considerable number of Southerners (79% of the men are white, 15% black, 6% a mix of Orientals, Filipinos and Polynesians) who might be expected to have reservations about the general and his methods, but Colonel Maxie Redic of Hartsville, S.C., a commander of division support troops and a 25-year Army veteran, speaks for most when he says, "This game helps a lot of men get their frustrations out and it teaches blacks and whites to work together. General Brooks is a reasonable man. He's people-oriented, and he knows people's needs." And a grizzled first sergeant, Colon Warren of Salemburg, N.C., says in a hominy-grits drawl, "The general's a mighty outstanding man, mighty outstanding."
Former football and basketball players have some advantage in combat football, but there are no stars. Anybody can play, and size isn't all that important. For example, one unit had a cook who had never been good at any sport; he was short, clumsy and uncoordinated. But in combat football he found he could carry the ball with three guys hanging on his back. It gave him a new image, made him, according to his superiors, a proud man.
Pride, blooming upward from company to battalion to regiment (now brigade) to division, has been the secret of success in the Marine Corps and the best Army divisions. Pride plus peer pressure, one should add. Both factors are blazingly evident in every combat football game, and eventually one discovers that the best teams do have strategies of a sort. They usually divide their men into offensive and defensive platoons, and they borrow basketball formations—a strong man in the slot, swift passers on the wings—for scoring plays, and zone-type defensive tactics. These are somewhat complicated, of course, by the fact that the soccer balls are seldom going in the same direction.
Two things are constant: rank has no privileges, and small men are among the fiercest competitors. In one game a barrel-chested, bespectacled sergeant, directing an offensive thrust, bawled orders at a whippet-fast, beagle-sized forward—his commanding officer. In another, a balding Filipino slashed like a machete at the defenders of the enemy goal. In one of the hardest-fought games a 155-pound, straw-haired rookie drove through a dozen tacklers to slam home the winning goal. A 43-year-old black goalie was asked if he didn't feel a bit too old for the game. "Hell, no," he said, "I run three miles every morning in 17 minutes."
Frequently the most savage contests are between companies of a single battalion. This was the case when Alpha and Bravo companies of the 1st Battalion, 14th Infantry, squared off. The battalion had just returned from a month of intensive training in the saddle between the slopes of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa on the big island of Hawaii. It had been a month of 12-hour simulated combat days, attacks on cliffs and bunkers, forced marches in cold rain and high winds. So in the soft sunshine of Schofield, the men were spoiling for the real thing. For the first 15 minutes nobody scored; but just before the halftime whistle, a player rose in the air before the Bravo goal, the soccer ball held in one hand like a baseball. He whipped it past a Bravo goalie. In the second half the Bravos, furious to even the score, forgot about strategy and began assailing the Alpha goal 20 to 25 strong. It was a mistake. Again and again the red-shirted Alphas kicked or threw the ball far down the field and slipped it past the almost deserted goalies. The final score was 5-0 Alpha, and, amazingly enough, everybody was able to walk off the field.