Kevin Fletcher threw the football around once in a while as a way of relaxing and relieving stress when he was stationed in Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011.

The field where the 2009 Oakcrest High School graduate and company would throw the ball was surrounded by thousands of feet of protective fencing and razor wire at U.S. Army Forward Operating Base Altimus, about 50 miles south of Kabul.

There was no way Fletcher could have imagined that just a couple years later the Army specialist would be playing in more comfortable surroundings.

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Instead of fencing and razor wire, Fletcher will be catching passes in front of a few thousand fans in the inaugural Army Veterans vs. Navy Veterans Arena Football Game at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.

Fletcher and fellow Richard Stockton College undergraduate Louis Iasparri will play for the Army Veterans in the game, which is part of the Philadelphia Soul's Military Appreciation Night.

The Army vs. Navy game will start around 9 p.m. at the conclusion of the Soul's game with the Iowa Barnstormers.

"It's awesome," said Fletcher, 22, of the Nesco section of Mullica Township. "I'm completely excited about it. This is one of those once-in-a-lifetime events. We get to go out there and play on a pro field."

Fletcher was in Afghanistan as part of the 4th Brigade, 10th Mountain Division out of Fort Polk, La.

He is studying criminal justice and forensic psychology at Stockton with the idea of working in law enforcement.

Fletcher and Iasparri found out about tryouts for the event through Stockton's assistant dean of students, Tom O'Donnell, who said in a news release that "for the first time, two of our students will be playing full-contact football."

Specialist Iasparri is a member of the U.S. Army National Guard active reserve in the 2nd Battalion, 113th Infantry out of Jersey City.

"It's a privilege," Iasparri said. "Especially with it being football. I love football, so party on."

Iasparri was a standout football player at North Arlington High School and played one year of semi-professional football after high school.

He will play outside linebacker in today's game.

"I'm amped," Iasparri said. "I just want to hit somebody that's not on my team."

Fletcher played defensive end and wide receiver at Oakcrest. He will see time at receiver today.

Fletcher and Iasparri each made the team as part of a group tryout.

"I went to tryouts and ended up making the team," Fletcher said. "It turned out to be honestly one of the (most fun) things I have ever done.

"It's a pretty big honor. It's not really a chance that most people get to do again."

Fletcher and the Army Veterans team will have their hands full with a talented Navy Veterans team that features former Navy standout quarterback Ricky Dobbs.

"The guys that we have playing on the team are a great bunch of guys," Fletcher said. "They are so hyped and so determined to go out there and win this one.

"It's one of those things that you instantly feel like you belong. It's kind of like that old football feeling."

Contact John O'Kane:


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