This past Monday, University of Alabama ROTC Cadet and Birmingham area native Ben Klein was not expecting to attend the National Championship game in Atlanta. In fact, he planned to cheer for the Tide with some friends at home in Tuscaloosa.
But the plan changed significantly that fateful morning.
Within approximately seven hours Klein was escorting President Donald Trump onto the field at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, in front of 75,000 people and a national television audience of over twenty-five million viewers. He then stood shoulder to shoulder with the President saluting the flag during the playing of the National Anthem.
After the pre-game ceremony, Klein, along with a fellow Alabama Cadet was a guest of the President, a far cry from his sofa in Tuscaloosa.
A whirlwind day
He graciously told us the remarkable story.
In Klein’s words.
I was having my normal Monday meeting on campus with my professor in military science, Lt. Colonel Brown when around 10 or 11 o’clock, he took a call in his office. When he was done, he said, he had just gotten off the phone with the White House and that there was a slight chance that they wanted Alabama Cadets to be at the National Championship game, because the President wanted to sit with some Cadets. They were curious if anyone was going to the game.
We couldn’t reach anyone, so after a while I pretty much forgot about it.
Then at about 1:30 pm, I received another phone call from my Lt. Colonel, and he said there is definitely a good chance you are going to the game. He asked if I knew who anyone could go with me. I said yes, let me check with Cadet Austin Griswold who lives two doors down from me.
Griswold thought I was joking because I was grinning from ear to ear. I asked him if he wanted to go to the National Championship and meet the President which of course the game is at 7:00 pm central giving us less than five hours to make it.
In a 45 minute turnaround, we put on our uniform, then actually used face time so our Lt.Colonel and Master Sergeant could inspect our uniforms. We left for Atlanta from Tuscaloosa before 3:00 pm.
We were still thinking we were only going to sit with him (President Trump) in his box. They were having background checks done on us too.
When we got to the stadium that is when we found out we would be walking him out onto the field. We learned this 30 minutes before we actually did it.
When we met President Trump, he thanked us for being there. There were 3 Georgia Cadets. We thanked him for the opportunity. It’s the biggest honor to meet your boss, especially in the military. No one generally gets to meet the commander-in-chief. Just to be two Cadets, it was a great honor. And a lot of it just happened because we happened to be able to get ready on a very short time span.
What it was like to walk out
Both Cadet Griswold and I have done color guard for at least two or three years on campus. We were color guards for the SEC championships and the Iron Bowl in front of 75,000-100,000 people before.
This event was completely different.
We escorted him (President Trump) onto the field. It was a lot louder and as soon as the music started we knew what to do. We then stood there, which seemed like a long time but it went all as planned.
Afterwards – the game
The Georgia Cadets actually had tickets to the game so they went off to their seats.
We got to sit near the President. He had people continuously coming by to talk to him.
Pretty awesome experience for two people who had no plans to be even remotely near the stadium, to end up sitting near the President.
Griswold did ask the President who he was rooting for during the game. Perhaps in the most neutral way possible he (President Trump) said with a smile, he had to remain neutral.
But you know there is a picture that we took of him holding an Alabama ROTC t-shirt.
We are going to say he rolls for the Tide.
About Ben Klein
After our interview with Klein, we asked about his background. As we mentioned earlier in the story, he graduated from the Alabama School of Fine Arts. He lived in Pelham and Hayden. He told us he considers himself to be from “Greater Birmingham.”
Along with being a student, Klein is a reserve deputy sheriff . After he graduates in May from Alabama he is going into active duty and will serve in the military police.
Klein concluded our interview with wise words about honor and why this experience was special for him as a Cadet.
“It was a great honor and that for a lot of us who are Cadets our greatest honor to look forward to is when we receive our commission to go into the Army as a 2nd lieutenant and work alongside the best Non-Commissioned Officers and Soldiers the world has to offer. It was an honor to get to do this as a Cadet.
A very humbling experience.”