Last Friday, word came that an Army football player from the West Point class of 2010, 1st Lt. Stephen “Chase” Prasnicki, age 24, had died two days earlier, serving in Afghanistan.
I first read the news on Facebook, in Army QB Trent Steelman's post about his former teammate from the 2009 season: "Thank you for paying the ultimate sacrifice brother. RIP Pras.”
Along with the respectful words of condolence was a collage of photos: #17 in a Black Knight football uniform, the soldier in camouflage uniform, a bride and her husband in dress blues.
Army Times reported, “Two soldiers who were killed in an improvised explosive device blast earlier this week in Afghanistan were identified”, adding, “they died Wednesday in Maidan Shahr, Wardak province, of wounds caused by an improvised explosive device.”
Lt. Prasnicki, 24, of Lexington, Va. was assigned to 4th Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, a unit based in Bamberg, Germany.
Also killed in the attack was SGT James L. Skalberg Jr. of Cullman, Alabama.
Stephen G. Fine, the parent of another West Point graduate serving in Afghanistan, wrote on the Academy’s remembrance web page about Lt. Prasnicki:
Sir, It is with great sadness that I have read of your passing due to enemy action. You have served your Country, the United States, well and have given the last full measure of devotion in this, your service. I am forever in your debt for your sacrifice that allows our Nation to continue to breathe free. Respectfully, Stephen G. Fine.
Prasnicki was a highly recruited high school athlete from Lexington, Virginia and Rockridge County High School. He was a football player at West Point, serving as a backup quarterback and playing at free safety as a senior.
When you cover a college football team, there are a lot of players, and you don’t meet everyone. Although I used to take my dad to Army games in the mid-1990s, the 2009 season was our first year covering West Point for our radio show.
After the Army-Navy game that year, I asked senior wide receiver Ali Villanueva about the game and the last Army drive where he was involved in almost every play—though double-, triple- and on the last play quadruple-covered in the end zone.
His answered epitomized Army football: “It was fun, but it is time to go lead a platoon.”
2009 was the season Trent Steelman was installed as the starting quarterback as a freshman to help run the option offense that head coach Rich Ellerson was installing. Several quarterbacks on the roster were passed over—one of them was Chase Prasnicki.
At Rockbridge County High in Virginia, Prasnicki was a star quarterback, his coach Jason White said (via the Roanake Times):
From the word go, he was a leader, and he wasn't going to be outworked by anyone, either. When he spoke in the huddle, no one else talked, and everybody listened.
With several colleges interested in him, Prasnicki chose West Point—coached then by Bobby Ross, the former San Diego Chargers coach.
The on-line guest book in the Roanoke Times is 31 pages long.
Charles Grevious of GoBlackknights.com, is the parent of two West Point graduates. He had spoken with Chase’s dad on R-Day—the day parents bring their sons and daughters to start training at West Point—in 2006. David Prasnicki, an Army veteran himself, said of his sons’ decision to attend West Point (via Rivals):
He's (Chase) very patriotic, so for him to attend West Point is a good move for him. He will make a good football player, but also a great leader that will help his country somewhere along the line.
This week on our July 4th radio show we asked co-defensive coordinator and safety coach Chris Smeland—himself the parent of a West Point cadet—about Chase Prasnicki, who he coached in 2009:
He was a special young man, no question, one of my favorites since I've been here. Chase was a guy we moved from the offensive side of the ball to the defensive side of the ball. He had no problems with that, he did it with a big smile. Everything he did on the football field and in his military responsibilities, he did full speed ahead. I had to spend some time myself in the Cadet chapel when I found out the news, reflecting on our relationship. Thinking about all the positive things he did for me and hopefully I helped him in some way.
Asked what he knew about what had happened in Afghanistan, Coach Smeland said:
It was a tough situation, he arrived in Afghanistan on Sunday of last week, he volunteered, which is his personality, he volunteered to go out on this patrol, and while he was out on patrol his vehicle was attacked by an IED, that was when it happened.
At West Point, the cadets are trained to lead, and that has a lot of requirements.
We see in our visits to the Academy that it means adhering to discipline, doing physically demanding tasks on a routine basis and being an exceptional student.
Leadership also means being out front.
Brigadier General William Rapp, the Commandant in 2010, told us he wanted “Every cadet an Athlete”. Army Head Coach Ellerson likes to describe football as "Leadership laboratory".
In Afghanistan last week, Chase Prasnicki chose to lead by volunteering to go out on a mission on what was his third full day in the country. He was caught at the wrong place at the wrong time; he probably never saw the enemy. He was out front.
Volunteering to be out front is what young US Army lieutenants do. It is what West Point graduates do, and some of the best are West Point football players.
WSLS in Roanoke, VA reports that funeral arrangements have been set for 1Lt Prasnicki Tuesday, July 10th, 11 a.m. at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Lexington, with internment immediately following at Greenhill Cemetery in Buena Vista.
Ken Kraetzer covers Army football for WVOX 1460 in New Rochelle, NY and Sons of the American Legion Radio. www.legionpost50ny.com
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