Spc. Steven Webb was willing to do just about anything Monday to get on the set of ESPN's "SportsCenter."
The show is broadcasting live this week from Camp Arifjan in commemoration of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The minute the Fort Eustis-based 7th Transportation Group soldiers heard that the show was in town, many started plotting ways to be in the audience.
At first, the odds seemed grim. There are only 500 or so seats on the set and Camp Arifjan is home to thousands of soldiers, many of whom have been here for months or are on their way home from Iraq. Newly arrived troops didn't have much of a chance.
Webb thought about offering up his rest and recuperation leave - time off when he would be able to go home for two weeks about half way through the yearlong deployment - in exchange for a nose-bleed seat. He was willing to give up some pay. Not an entire year's worth, but some.
He didn't have to.
Early Monday, after running a few miles with the company, Webb walked across the camp to the warehouse where ESPN has set up.
He was one of the first soldiers to get a seat. "That's how bad I wanted to go," Webb said. "The walk to the warehouse is a couple of miles. It's a trip soldiers usually take on a shuttle bus. "See, I was willing to trudge through the open desert." Spc. Jake Weber and Spc. Harley Harding, also with the Fort Eustis-based group, went along.
Over the last couple of weeks, soldiers and ESPN employees have been transforming an empty warehouse into a full-blown TV studio. They built a stage, mounted lights. They pulled in bleachers and cots for seating. They hung camouflage netting and pitched tents. They rolled in a tank.
"It really gave me a good feeling coming over here, knowing I was coming over here to send the soldiers back home via TV," said Jamie Faust, an editing and slow-motion replay technician. You can't really tell who the Eustis folks are just by watching. Webb, Weber and Harding managed to get bleacher seats. During a close-up of one of the sports anchors, Webb is waving wildly and Weber is flashing a Minnesota Vikings flag.
"I know it's me and my whole family and my buddy is taping it to send over here," Webb said. "I didn't really care about getting on SportsCenter. I just wanted to hear the sweet sound of the background music and talk to anyone from SportsCenter. It's definitely the best thing that will happen this whole deployment."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times