After two tours in Iraq and a third deployment coming up this spring, Dolores High School graduate and U.S. Marine Staff Sgt. Nathaniel Wood just completed a tour of a different sort.
Wood carried the U.S. Marine Corps flag as part of the color guard during opening ceremonies of Super Bowl XLIII.
Wood and his wife, Rebecca, were high school sweethearts in Dolores; Nathaniel graduated in 1996, and Becky graduated in 1999. Nathaniel's parents are Don and Della Wood of Florida, and Rebecca's mother, Linda Buzis, lives in Cortez.
Wood is stationed at MacDill Air Force Base, near Tampa Bay, Fla. The color guard is made up of members from all branches of the military who volunteer their time to serve at various events throughout the state.
Wood became a member last September, and his group has done at least 15 events since then.
"We go into the community and do different things like
Veterans Day appreciation at
the middle school, Memorial
Day services, retirement services and Buccaneers football games," he said last week by phone from Florida. "It's all on a volunteer basis, during our off-duty time."
Color guard members met at the stadium all day Friday to practice their entrance and rehearse their movements together. They practice regularly, but four additional service members will be on the Super Bowl detail. All branches of the military will be represented. In addition to three Marines, Army, Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard personnel will join the color guard.
"It should be pretty interesting," he said. "I'm still kind of in awe that we got selected to go to this; it's a pretty cool deal. We didn't think we would get Super Bowl tickets. We never expected that from the get-go.
"We were all under the assumption we wouldn't get tickets, and we were fine with that. Just to be able to go out there and carry the Marine Corps colors, that's a huge thing. I'm pretty stoked about that. To find out a couple of days ago that we got tickets ... I'm pretty much on cloud nine now."
Wood and the other color guard members stood behind Jennifer Hudson when she sang the national anthem.
"We will stand behind her during the whole national anthem, do our thing and get out of there," he said.
The Woods haven't been back to Dolores in several years, Nathaniel said.
"It's been about four or five years, I guess," he said. "Our relatives visit us; we've been to Hawaii, California and now Tampa. It has thinned out our blood a little."
Wood should deploy for his third tour in Iraq around April.
"I've had time off, more than other Marines in my unit. They've gone back to back nonstop," he said. "I've had a lot of time off, and I feel guilty about that. ... It's hard to explain. ... It's a different mentality, I guess."
Wood is an imagery analyst with the Marines, but he was in artillery during his first enlistment. He moved to the intelligence field about five years ago.
"I exploit satellite imagery of everything and provide intelligence support to ground troops," he said.
"There's no front line really. I'm not going on combat patrols, but that doesn't mean we don't get shot at. I'm a little more protected. It's safer than some other jobs. ... It definitely has its moments."