Nov. 12, 2006, was the worst day of Nancie Ann Schnell’s life, but Jan. 8, 2011 was one of the best.
Her son, Anthony Roberti, was honored as a military hero on that latter date for the incredible actions on the former.
“The scariest day of my life was the day they called and said he was injured, and then the phone cut out, Oh, my God! When there is an incident, the military cuts out communications,” said Mrs. Schnell from her East Greenwich home. “Then, he called back and said he was in the hospital and said he was okay, and the phone cut out again!
“I asked him, ‘Are you going to Germany (where they take the severely injured soldiers)?’ and he said he wasn’t. Then, I was relieved. But he had gone through such a trauma. He had lost his lieutenant, his gunner and his Iraqi translator and the Hum-V was flipped over and he was driving. It was an awful, awful day, November 12, 2006.”
But three weeks ago, on Jan. 8, a record crowd of 37,893 fans saw her son Anthony Roberti enter the Alamodome for the Army-sponsored "All-American" Bowl high school all-star football game, honored as a military hero.
Army Reserve Staff Sgt. Roberti, son of Nancie Ann Schnell of Oakwood Drive, East Greenwich, and John Roberti of North Carolina (who attended the game) was one of 90 Army active duty, Reserve, or National Guard soldier heroes who were honored during the pre-game
activities. Each of the soldiers had earned a Silver Star, Bronze Star, Purple Heart or Army Commendation medal for their efforts in Operation, Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom or Operation New Dawn.
Shortly before the kickoff of the nationally televised game, each of the soldier heroes were matched to an All-American high school athlete, who represented the East and West squad on the field.
During the past year, the soldier heroes have participated in various military deployments, and because of their dedication, leadership and teamwork skills, received various medals for their distinguished service to our country.
“I am being honored as a representative of my fallen comrades I served with and the Purple Heart and Army Commendation Medal with Valor I received in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom," said Roberti, who graduated in 1997 from East Greenwich High School. "My vehicle was hit by a suicide vehicle borne improvised explosive device. I was wounded in the attack and received shrapnel in my right side, arm, shoulder and face. The
commendation for valor was for my actions after the attack."
Anthony Roberti now lives in North Carolina with wife Clara and daughter Elliana, said his proud mother. After all the hype, the crowd was simply too large for her to spot him on the turf.
“I didn’t get to see Anthony. When I talked to him, it was the pre-game show. He said 160 or 170 people, Army representatives, were chosen to go out on the field and they were matched up with a player. The player that Anthony was matched up with was Nick O’Leary, whose grandfather is (golfing legend) Jack Nicklaus,” she said.
“They ran out onto the field, high fived all the players, and then, he just went and sat in the stands with his Dad. I did watch the game, but I didn’t get to see Anthony,” she added. “He called me and told me he just met Jack Nicklaus and he was having such a great time there, with so many 3-star generals and high ranking officials. It was a great opportunity to meet many people.”
Roberti is currently a military recruiter, looking to become an E-7, a higher rank of Sergeant. “He goes to schools and talks to the kids. He’s at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, and recruits out of Goldsboro, N.C.
He takes a very big interest in the kids down there, the high schools. He really goes above and beyond. He makes sure they have the tools they need to pass the tests and do the physicals. He is very dedicated,” said Ms. Schnell.
San Antonio opened its arms to Roberti and his fellow soldier heroes in what has become one of the largest events of its kind in high school sports. Throughout the week, the soldiers and players were able to learn
about each other and develop camaraderie by attending various events which included a Player-Hero challenge, barbeque and formal dinner.
"It is quite an impressive event, bigger than I ever imagined," said Roberti, who is a 2001 graduate of the University of Rhode Island in Kingston. "It is amazing to see the raw talent and potential in these young athletes.”
Representing the Army in this way only brings home the importance for young people to serve in the military today.
"It is important to serve to protect the rights and freedoms that we all share and sometimes take for granted," said Roberti. "It is also important as a way to build a young person's foundation in life. It gives a young man or woman the self respect and achievement you cannot get from any other places."
“He’s my hero,” said his mother.