Minutes after Florida State University quarterback Jameis Winston led his team to victory in the Bowl Championship Series championship game on Jan. 6, he was conducting a post-game interview with a reporter on national television.
During the interview, with cameras and reporters surrounding him, Winston gave a shout out to his cousin, Army Specialist T’Ola Winston, a 4th Infantry Division soldier currently serving at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan.
“My cousin in Afghanistan [is] watching this game -- T’Ola Winston,” he said.
Thousands of miles away, T’Ola, who indeed was in Afghanistan watching the game, smiled in joy. It was joy not for herself -- after all, not everybody gets a shout-out on national television immediately following one of the biggest sports events of the year -- but joy for her cousin Jameis, or “Jaboo” as she calls him.
“In that moment, it’s beyond words,” T’Ola said. “You can’t even explain the joy I felt for him, knowing how hard he works.”
T’Ola is a signal support systems specialist who joined the U.S. Army in January 2011. She is currently stationed at Fort Carson, Colo., with Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 4th Infantry Division, and she deployed to Afghanistan -- her first deployment -- as an orderly room clerk.
T’Ola, who considers Hueytown, Ala., and Bessemer, Ala., as her hometowns, is also an athlete; she played basketball at Bevill State Community College.
After she received her associate degree at age 22, she considered joining the military -- something she says had been a big desire.
After her friends and family talked her out of it, however, she later became a substitute teacher and an assistant basketball coach for Hueytown Middle School -- at the same time Jameis Winston was a student there.
Years later, in 2011, she finally decided to join the U.S. Army.
“I was 28, and it was a now-or-never type of deal for me,” she said. “I decided to follow my desire.”
It is a decision she is glad she made. She even added an extra year of service to her contract during the deployment and would like to serve in the military for the long term, she said.
“We live in the greatest country in the world, and serving in the military is a good thing to do,” T’Ola said. “The military has been a great experience for me. I’ve enjoyed it.”
-- Antony Lee is with International Security Assistance Force Regional Command South