Florida Gators: Andrew Coughlan

Military trip resonates with Gators

November, 14, 2012
ABOARD THE USS BATAAN -- Erik Murphy sat with his Florida basketball teammates in a hotel meeting room last Thursday night and listened to one of the most horrifying and uplifting stories he had ever heard.

Army veteran Andrew Coughlan described surviving a mortar attack in Iraq because another soldier jumped on top of him to shield him from the explosion. The other soldier, Coughlan’s best friend in the unit, didn’t survive.

Coughlan talked about his grief over his friend’s death and the loss of other friends in the Iraq war. He was wracked with guilt over having survived when others didn’t. He described what it was like to come home and live with that memory. And finally, he talked about accepting what happened and deciding to live for the soldiers who didn’t come back.

"His story was just ... it’s so like ... I really don’t know how to explain it," Murphy said. "It was unreal. It was an unreal story sitting in the room listening to it. You can hear how it affected him, how it changed his life, and how it first affected him negatively and then he took that and changed it to a positive. He’s telling the story just to help other people. It’s something special."

That was the most powerful moment the Gators experienced during a two-day span that culminated with the Navy-Marine Corps Classic aboard the USS Bataan at Naval Station Mayport on Friday night. But there were plenty of others that affected UF’s players.

In touring the Bataan on Thursday, the Gators met various members of the military. Some were officers and some were enlisted men and women. Some were older, but some were their age -- or even younger. Even though the players know there are thousands of men and women just a few years out of high school serving in the military, it didn’t really sink in until they met some of them.

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