FORT WORTH, TEX. - U. S. Army veteran Bret Robertson, a junior strong safety at Westminster College in Fulton, Mo., is the fourth recipient of Armed Forces Merit Award presented by the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA). Coordinated by the staff at the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl, the Armed Forces Merit Award presented by the FWAA was created in June 2012 "to honor an individual and/or a group within the realm of the sport of football.
Brant Ringler, the Executive Director of the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl, and Lee Barfknecht of the Omaha World-Herald, the FWAA's President, announced here Wednesday the 25-year old Robertson as the 2015 recipient during an 11 a.m. (CT) teleconference.
A seven-person committee made up of FWAA members and Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl officials selected Robertson, who joins other Army veterans Nate Boyer (Texas, 2012), Brandon McCoy (North Texas, 2013) and Daniel Rodriguez (Clemson, 2014) as Armed Forces Merit Award recipients.
After graduating from California (Mo.) High School in 2008, Robertson enlisted in the U. S. Army where he served more than three years. He was deployed to Iraq for one year and received the Army Commendation Medal along with his Purple Heart for his service. "My grandpa, my brother, and my stepdad all served," Roberson said. "It's a family thing. I wanted to serve my country."
Robertson also received the Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, and the Iraq Campaign Medal with Campaign Star. He was also honored with the Non Commissioned Officer Professional Development Ribbon, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon and a Combat Infantryman Badge.
"On this very special day, Veterans' Day 2015, we are pleased to join with the Football Writers Association of America to honor Bret Robertson as the fourth recipient of the Armed Forces Merit Award," said Ringler. "We had list of 18 outstanding nominations for this year's award and it is difficult to honor only one each year when we have individuals and programs that are very deserving of the honor."
Barfknecht echoed Ringler's sentiments along with adding that the FWAA is "pleased to team with Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl to recognize Robertson's achievement as a veteran that used his armed forces experiences to benefit his teammates and coaches at Westminster College. The FWAA also salutes the other 2015 nominations for their contributions on-and-off the field of play."
A three-season starter for Westminster, Robertson finished his second season as the captain on a Blue Jay team that won six of 10 games in 2015. He compiled 86 total tackles this season (51 solos), including seven for losses (28 yards). He had three interceptions (20 yards) with two pass deflections and one fumble recovery.
After missing his freshman season due to injuries, Robertson has compiled 212 total tackles during his 29-game Blue Jay career with 130 solo stops. He has also intercepted six passes (78 return yards) during his career with three forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries, 8.5 tackles for losses (30 yards) and four pass breakups in three seasons.
Robertson was named to the 2014 Upper Midwest Athletic Conference (UMAC) All-Conference Second Team. He is a member of the Westminster track team where he holds the javelin record with a 54.44-meter (178.6-feet) last March after winning the 2014 St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SLIAC) Championship.
"I am very grateful to have the opportunity to be at Westminster and compete in both football and track," said Robertson. "Being on the football team is like being in the Army. You have guys looking after one another and have a brotherhood that lasts a long time."
After being informed he is the 2015 AFMA recipient, Robertson said he was "very humbled to accept this award and be a part of the accomplished group of veterans that have won this award before me. I want to thank everyone who has supported me in my journey to where I am now. For me, this award is a huge honor; it represents a powerful message to veterans to continue to serve after their service to our country, whether it is on the football field or in the community."
Westminster coach John Welty said it was "an honor and a privilege to know and coach Bret. He is a hero in my eyes. If it was not for young men like Bret, I would not be in the position I am now. Bret is a great football player and an even better person."
Dr. Benjamin Akande, the school's new President, added that "Westminster College is so proud of Bret and the honor he has received. As a student-athlete, as a veteran, Bret exhibits the type of leadership that we strive to instill in every Westminster student - innovative, creative and confident, and a positive force for change in the world today."
In supporting Robertson's nomination for the Armed Forces Merit Award presented by the FWAA, out-going Westminster College President George B. Forsythe stated that "Bret has brought his self-discipline, commitment to service, and exemplary integrity to our campus where he is a leader in the classroom, on the athletic field, and in the community."
Dr. Forsythe, who retired from the school this past summer, also added that he had "gotten to know Bret most closely through the College's Military Veterans Club. As a retired Army officer with 35 years of active duty service, I meet each semester with our military veterans at the College to discuss campus life and exchange ideas on how to enhance our community. Bret has been a leader in this group, and has participated with his fellow veterans in a wide range of service projects on campus and in the local community. In addition to being a full-time student and Division III athlete, Bret makes time to give back to his community through service. He is an inspiration to us all."
A Brigadier General in U. S. Army, Dr. Forsythe also said Robertson "is a curious, engaging, and serious student. This summer, he will travel to Rwanda and Tanzania as part of a team from our school to work on service projects in rural areas of those two countries."
Dr. Robert N. Hansen, the Director of Organizational Leadership Program at Westminster, stated that "in my 42 years of being a college professor, I've never had a student quite like Bret. He is a terrific young man who is just now realizing how much he has to offer and how he can change the world. Even though I knew Bret very well before this past summer, it wasn't until he became part of my East Africa Project Team for Humanity for Children (an international humanitarian organization focusing on the welfare of children and mothers) that I really became aware of all his strengths. Being together 24/7 for 25 days under tough conditions allowed me to see even deeper into his beliefs/values, motivations, and backstory."
Dr. Hanson added that "college professors love to see students stretch beyond what they think they can do. I've seen Bret do this time and again as he evolved from an "I'm not so smart" self-concept to an individual capable of high levels of critical thinking and creative problem-solving. His transformation over the past few years has been remarkable and we are so proud of the way he has grown into a fine student and leader. Bret's military experience, including being wounded in action, has propelled him to think deeply about how to help other veterans."
Speaking of the day when he was wounded in combat, Robertson said "it was just a normal day. We were doing security for a convoy delivering supplies when an EFP went off in front of our truck. Another went off right beside us that penetrated our truck, throwing shrapnel throughout and a piece hit me in the left side of my face. We were lucky that day. There were big chunks of shrapnel stuck in the armor of the truck a few inches from my face."
In concluding his comments on Robertson, Dr. Hanson said "for the past 18 months, Bret has been working on his plan to create a program for vets that includes fitness, service and support. He has interned with the YMCA, met with veterans to talk about their needs, conducted research on veterans' transition programs, and taken classes to develop his social entrepreneurial skills. I see this theme as a life-long commitment for Bret."
In a school news release last May, it was written that Robertson's "life is coming full circle in a way he never imagined it would, as he brings his Westminster College education together with his military experience in Iraq. At Westminster, Bret is taking something he is passionate about and learning how to forge that passion into a career, based on leadership that will improve the lives of others. A few years ago, however, he never dreamed he would be here. Growing up, Bret never planned on going to college. Schoolwork has never come easy for him. In middle school, Bret was diagnosed with learning differences; he had trouble with spelling and reading comprehension. In high school in the small town of California (near Jefferson City), he couldn't see himself going to college, but the military was a path he knew."
Now seven years after enlisting and four years removed from his Army experience, Robertson continues to serve both on-and-off the field of play. For that, Bret Robertson is the 2015 recipient of the Armed Forces Merit Award presented by the FWAA.