On Thursday night's news and notes post, I shared a photo of Gorgui Dieng posing for a picture with "Flat Jake," the "stateside persona" of Cardinal fan Jake Kerger, who is currently serving our country in Afghanistan.
Corporal Kerger reached out to me to share a little bit more of the story that goes with the picture, and it was too wonderful not to share with everyone.
The following are his words.
My brother recently shared a few photos with you and my "mini me" so to speak. Thank you for sharing them. You've compelled me to elaborate further on how these players have made my deployment tolerable.
My name is Corproral Jake Kerger and I am an infantryman (grunt) in the United States Army. I am currently serving a tour in Afghanistan, am based out of Fort Campbell, Ky and am a proud member of the 101st Airborne Division. I was born and raised in Louisville, attended Saint Xavier High School, and then attended college and played 5 years of D3 football for Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio. Following college I joined the Army, and I am now a fire team leader in the infantry. No one is a bigger fan of UL sports than myself.
I would like to share how the University of Louisville basketball team has made my stay here in Afghanistan just a little bit better, and a tour riddled with smiles and surprises. Throughout my tour they have proven humble and supportive.
My family made a small 2D persona of me that they like to call "Flat Jake," it's a foot-tall cardboard cutout of me in my multicam uniform. They take it on trips, out to dinner, and most importantly, to U of L games. It's a fun way to ensure that I don't miss out on all the fun while I'm gone.
A few months ago, my aunt ran into Peyton Siva, Russ Smith, and Stephen Van Treese at a UL Football game. Upon her request, they were more than willing to playfully pose with "Flat Jake."
When my aunt placed the picture on Facebook for me to find, I did what any normal Cards fan would do and freaked out. But that's not all.
Anyone close to me will tell you that Gorgui Dieng is my favorite player. I love to watch him play, I admire the way he carries himself, and am blown away by the path he has taken to arrive at Louisville. His insights on the world are always humbling and interesting as well. Unbenknownst to me, my wife, through a friend, reached out to Gorgui. She told him who I was, what I was doing, and that I was such a big fan of his. Sure enough, just a week ago, I open a care package from my wife thinking I would find the usual hygiene items and snacks that I request to make life easier over here. Included in the box was a short letter from Gorgui, as well as a picture of my lucky #10 jersey that he signed for me. Among other things he thanked me for being a fan and said not to worry, I could watch them next year. Of course, I freaked out once again.
It's hard to really experience the holidays here, but this was an amazing Christmas gift and an incredible suprise. The humility and support these guys have shown is overwhelming. But that's not all.
Recently, my aunt (same aunt from the football game mentioned above) reached out to Gorgui while he was sitting on the end of the bench at the FIU game. She asked if he too would pose with "Flat Jake" for a picture. Sure enough, he was more than willing and did so with a big Gorgui smile on his face. Just a few days ago, she posted this to Facebook for me to find and once again, I couldn't stop smiling and laughing. It's made me feel like a little kid all over again and has made my tour here go by that much faster, smoother, and happier.
The days here can be stressful, but finding these kinds of surprises have helped me to cope. If it weren't for their good attitudes, humility, and support, none of this would have happened. I had to share. Hopefully you can too.
Thank you for your time,
Corporal Jake Kerger
D Co 3-187 INF