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Football: Ohio State-Michigan rivalry continues overseas

Ohio State self-defense instructor Mark Karman (right) and Ohio State Navy ROTC member Scott Wostiac (left) aboard the USS Enterprise. Credit: Courtesy of Mark Karman.

Imagine being an Ohio State fan thousands of miles away from Columbus while deployed and stationed on a military base. Now imagine your deployment is during the biggest college football rivalry game of the year. What do you do? How do you manage to watch the game? Who do you watch it with?

For some military members affiliated with Ohio State, this scenario is all too real. Yet, those members of the armed forces are resilient in their effort to watch their beloved Buckeyes take on Michigan. From watch parties to finding Ohio State sports bars in foreign cities, the strategies of finding a way to watch the biggest game in college football seemingly never end while overseas.

Ohio State self-defense instructor and lieutenant colonel Mark Karman’s experience watching the game differed depending where he was located, but the process of finding Buckeye and Wolverine fans was always the same.

“You knew who was from Michigan because it would come out naturally,” Karman said.

During his deployment in Africa and Iraq, Karman said he needed people to pick up his watch shifts in order to see the game. He also said watch parties often formed among Ohio State and Michigan military members.

There was always some sort of food set-up, like chips and dip or other leftovers scrounged up from dinner before the game started. Each team’s fans would watch in a separate room, just close enough where they could hear the other group cheering and yelling.

When Karman was stationed in South Korea, the experience vastly differed. On the night of the game, he and other Buckeye fans in his squadron were led into town to watch the game at a local bar.

As they entered the bar, it didn’t take long to realize this bar was unlike any other in South Korea. Hundreds of Ohio State fans packed the small sports bar, anxiously waiting for kickoff at 2 a.m. Korea Standard Time. Karman said it was unlike anything he had seen before overseas, and the atmosphere was “electric.”

When asked if the time zone difference played a factor, Karman shrugged it off and said that those determined to watch the game found a way no matter the time zone. The game was always watchable via the Armed Forces Network (AFN), a service network that offers ESPN and other channels streamed to troops anywhere.

Ohio State strength and conditioning instructor and retired staff sergeant Jason Sturgill remembered dedicating the entire month of November to the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry during his time stationed at Guantanamo Bay for the military police.

Sturgill said his military unit was from Ohio and there were always a few units from Michigan that made their presence known. From flying flags outside tents to repping school colors while off-duty, everyone on base knew who was from Ohio and who was from Michigan.

Though he was not able to watch the game, Sturgill said his unit would usually watch the game from inside this huge tent on base that would fit between 500 and 1,000 people. On the day of the game, the tent was filled with both Ohio State and Michigan fans. Sometimes the rowdiness of the fans forced the game to be viewed in separate tents.

Sturgill said his time at Guantanamo Bay was filled with small pranks and bets between the schools’ followers. He recalled how the flags of each school often flew over their respective tents leading up to the game.

“We would steal [Michigan’s] flag the night before, and give it back the next day,” Sturgill said.

One popular bet among the two groups was that the losing school’s unit would fly the winning school’s flag after the game.

Sturgill also said another bet from the Michigan units was a push-up wager. The unit supporting the losing team would have to do the same amount of push-ups the winning team scored during the game.

“So if Michigan scored 48 points on us and won, the Ohio guys had to do 48 push-ups,” Sturgill said.

Karman and Sturgill said the overall tone of the rivalry overseas between the two schools was a friendly rivalry. They stressed how, even though there was animosity between the schools, everyone stationed overseas was there for the same reason: to serve and protect the United States and the rest of the world.

Of course the rivalry can get intense at times, but sometimes fans have to take a step back from the feud in order to accomplish something greater.

Ohio State fans usually don’t give a damn for the whole state of Michigan, but they sure do give a damn about the whole military and its time and sacrifice.

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