When UGA takes to the field in Sanford Stadium for its season's first home game Saturday, players will wear the insignia of the 48th Infantry Brigade Combat Team - the Georgia-based Army National Guard unit deployed to Afghanistan.
"When I heard that the 48th was from throughout the state of Georgia, I was excited about the opportunity," said Georgia coach Mark Richt. "Hopefully, this is a sign of our appreciation for all the men and women who are serving and for their families as well. We owe them all the support we can give."
About 3,000 members of the 48th Brigade deployed to Afghanistan for an 11-month mission this spring, leaving behind families from the post in Winder and across Georgia. Northeast Georgia families and businesses have been deeply impacted by deployment.
Lt. Col. John Gentry, director of the Oconee County Parks and Recreation Department, currently is stationed in Afghanistan with the 48th Brigade.
He initially proposed the idea that Bulldogs wear the unit's insignia on their helmets as way to honor the soldiers in the 48th Brigade who have been killed in combat since the unit deployed.
"To date we have lost seven soldiers in the line of duty," Gentry wrote in an e-mail to Richt this summer. "A thought that I had to honor those soldiers and families who have paid the ultimate sacrifice while serving the 48th IBCT, the state of Georgia and the USA is this: I wanted to know if Coach Richt and the university would consider sewing on the 48th IBCT patch on No. 48 during this football season?"
The UGA Athletic Association printed the combat team's shoulder insignia on 1-inch by 1.5-inch stickers that will be applied to all players' helmets.
This is the first time UGA's football team has worn the combat team's colors onto the field, said Lt. Col. Ken Baldowski, spokesman for the Georgia Department of Defense.
Richt was one of five college football coaches last summer who toured and visited with U.S. troops in Germany and the Middle East.
"After that trip, I certainly have a greater appreciation for their sacrifice," Richt said. "To be there and see them face-to-face was definitely an eye-opening experience."
The seven soldiers who have been killed while fighting with the 48th Brigade as part of Operation Enduring Freedom this summer include 1st Sgt. John D. Blair of Calhoun; Maj. Kevin M Jenerette of Lula; Sgt. 1st Class John C. Beale of Riverdale; Sgt. Brock H. Chavers of Bulloch; Sgt Issac L. Johnson Jr. of Columbus; Sgt. Jeffery W. Jordon of Cave Spring and Sgt. Raymundo P. Morales of Dalton.