Armed Forces Merit Award 2018 finalists revealed

FORT WORTH, Texas — Five individuals and one program have been named as finalists for the 2018 Armed Forces Merit Award presented by the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA).

This year’s recipient will be announced prior to Veteran’s Day on Thursday (November 8). The announcement of the 2018 recipient will be made jointly by Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl Executive Director Brant Ringler and FWAA Executive Director Steve Richardson on an 11 a.m. (CT) teleconference.

Armed Forces Merit Award

Three of the five individual being for the 2018 Armed Forces Merit Award presented by the FWAA were also finalists in 2017 when Kansas State and its football team was announced last November as the sixth recipient of the Armed Forces Merit Award for the university’s partnership with the United States Army that created a bond between the school’s athletic department and the Iron Rangers at Fort Riley.

U.S. Air Force Academy Coach Troy Calhoun, Robert Morris University president Dr. Chris Howard and Texas Tech University strength and conditioning coach Rusty Whitt lead the list of five individuals name as 2018 finalists after advancing to the final round of voting in 2017. Both Calhoun and Dr. Howard are Air Force veterans and Whitt served in the U.S.  Army

Other individuals named as finalists are defensive back and Air Force veterans Darren Palmer of UNLV and wide receiver and National Guard reservists Casey Stewart of Shenandoah University in Winchester, Va. The lone program advancing to the finals is Athletes Of Valor, an organization that works with active duty military and veterans to help them get recruited to college and play sports.

The Armed Forces Merit Award’s selection committee is made up of five FWAA members and two representatives from the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl. A total of 56 “candidates” were nominated for the 2018 award that was created in June 2012 “to honor an individual and/or a group with a military background and/or involvement that has an impact within the realm of college football.”

Nate Boyer of the University of Texas, Austin was the initial recipient in 2012. Other recipients were Brandon McCoy of the University of North Texas in 2013, Daniel Rodriguez from Clemson University in 2014, Bret Robertson of Westminster College (Fulton, Mo.) in 2015 and Steven Rhodes from Middle Tennessee State University.

Athletes Of Valor – Unlike college-athlete recruiting services, Athletes of Valor uniquely serves servicemen and women throughout the different stages and challenges of their transition. First, by connecting qualified, competitive servicemen and women with collegiate coaches, and then by facilitating internship and job opportunities with corporate partners. Athletes of Valor’s only-of-its-kind model provides veterans an avenue to showcase their skills and character traits while also giving collegiate coaches the space they need to access experienced veteran athletes. Over one million servicemen and women will transition over the next four years, and statistics show that only about fifty percent will end up earning a degree. With around 85% of student-athletes graduating, the numbers tell a story. With Athletes of Valor, veterans have a unique opportunity to compete on a collegiate team, contribute their experience and maturity, and be a part of something bigger than themselves. Bridging the communication gap between service members and collegiate coaches is at the core of Athletes of Valor’s overall mission to help veteran’s transition successfully.


Troy Calhoun

Troy Calhoun, Head Coach, United States Air Force Academy (U. S. Air Force) – A 1989 graduate from the Academy and a member of the superintendent’s list by earning over a 3.0 grade point average along with a military performance average of better than 3.0, Calhoun and his wife, Amanda, have a strong respect and affinity for the members of our armed services and are very involved with numerous charitable and community endeavors. After serving from 1989-1995 as an active duty officer in the Air Force, Calhoun coached at Ohio, Wake Forest, the Denver Broncos and the Houston Texans before becoming the Falcon head coach in 2007. In 11-plus seasons at Air Force, Calhoun has led the Falcons to nine bowl games and an 85-64 record.


Dr. Chris Howard

Dr. Chris Howard, President, Robert Morris University (U. S. Air Force) – Dr. Howard is the eighth president of Robert Morris University in suburban Pittsburgh. He is a 1991 graduate of the United States Air Force Academy, a Rhodes Scholar (earned a doctoral degree from the University of Oxford), and a graduate with an MBA with distinction from Harvard Business School. Dr. Howard received the Campbell Trophy, the highest academic award in the nation presented to a senior college football player, and he was inducted into the CoSIDA Academic All-America Hall of Fame. He is a recipient of the NCAA Silver Anniversary Award, which recognizes distinguished individuals on the 25th anniversary of the conclusion of their collegiate athletic careers. Dr. Howard is a member of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, the College Football Playoff Selection Committee, the College Football 150th Anniversary Committee, and the NCAA Honors Committee. A retired Air Force reserve lieutenant colonel, Dr. Howard served as a helicopter pilot and then became an intelligence officer for the elite Joint Special Operations Command. He served on active duty in Afghanistan in 2003 and was awarded the Bronze Star for his service. Dr. Howard also served as the Reserve Air Attaché to Liberia. As RMU president, Dr. Howard has opened the Center for Veterans and Military Families. RMU recently announced that it is partnering with the SEAL Future Fund to help active-duty and retired Navy SEALs transition to civilian careers. RMU also offers its MBA program at a deep discount to service members stationed at any of four military bases located near its campus.


Darren Palmer

Darren Palmer, UNLV (U. S. Army) – A walk-on defensive back/receiver, Palmer got his first taste of college football last season after previously spending nearly a decade serving in the military. He joined the Rebels in 2017 through open tryouts during the offseason, which led to a roster spot during spring practice. Palmer Joined the U.S. Air Force out of high school in 2009 and rose to E-4 Senior Airman status during the four-year stint. He was also stationed first in Fairbanks, Alaska, before moving to a base in Hawai’i. He has also spent three years in the Air National Guard. A 2009 graduate of Lithia Springs High School in Georgia, Palmer is a human services major at UNLV. He was one of a school-record 26 Rebels named 2017 Academic All-Mountain West. A member of the Rebels special teams, Palmer has competed in seven games this season with seven total tackles.


Casey Stewart

Casey Stewart, Shenandoah University (National Guard) – In his third-season at the Winchester, Va., school, Stewart is the Hornets third-leading receiver (35 catches for 529 yards) and leads Shenandoah in scoring with 11 touchdown receptions for 66 points. After catching only one pass as a freshman, Stewart had 32 receptions for 478 yards and six touchdowns in 2017 for Shenandoah. He enlisted in the National Guard in January 2017 and completed his basic training in Fort Benning, Georgia. He missed most of Shenandoah’s spring practice while he spent the next 14 weeks in boot camp. Stewart made an appearance at SU toward the end of spring practice 2017 to show his coaches and teammates that he was still invested in the Hornets’ football program. He also was forced to miss the first week of Shenandoah’s preseason camp in August while at a two-week training exercise at Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia. Stewart has a six-year contract with the National Guard with an additional two years of inactive reserve if he chooses not to re-up his contract. He wants to work for the federal government (FBI, CIA or DEA) upon his college graduation. If he doesn’t get accepted agencies, he’ll attend officer candidate school.


Rusty Whitt

Rusty Whitt, Strength & Conditioning, Texas Tech University (U. S. Army) – In his third season at Texas Tech, Whitt served in the United States Army as a Senior Special Forces Communication Sergeant in the 10th Special Forces Group. Whitt was a member of the U.S. Army from Aug. 2003-Jan. 2009 where during that time he deployed to Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) V and VI. Whitt developed and initiated a comprehensive pre-deployment conditioning program for his Special Forces Team prior to and during OIF V and VI. He received a combat infantry badge, two Iraqi campaign medals and an Army commendation medal with valor. Whitt spent six seasons as the head strength and conditioning coach for a Louisiana-Lafayette and a year-long stint as an assistant strength and conditioning coach at Rice. Prior to joining the military, Whitt was the head strength and conditioning coach at Sam Houston State. Whitt began his strength and conditioning career with graduate assistantships at Midwestern State University, and the University of Texas. He performed an internship in the strength and conditioning department at the U.S. Olympic Training Center. Whitt earned his bachelor’s degree in police science and administration from Abilene Christian University in 1994 and his master’s degree in kinesiology from Texas in 1997.