A sense of duty and community

A sense of duty and community

Lisa Gregory

WHEN football fans watch a game, they see two teams battling on the field for the ball. Many don’t notice the hard work and efforts of the other team on the field, the cheerleaders. For these athletes, cheering is a way to get fans involved in the game and, at the same time, offers a way to get out in their communities.

In professional sports cheerleaders are known for their work on the field and the many public appearances they make in support of their teams. Many take on the physically demanding job while continuing with schooling or full-time careers. For CPT Mark Citarella, a Maryland National Guard Soldier and five-year veteran of the Baltimore Ravens’ cheerleading stunt team, being a member of the group has offered a chance to be a part of his community and bring the sport of cheerleading around the world.

“In 2002 a group of us traveled to 16 countries as part of a USO tour. One stop was in Afghanistan,” said Citarella, commander of the 29th Infantry Division’s Company B, 229th Maintenance Support Battalion. “It was different being there as a civilian entertaining the Soldiers deployed there. I’ve always been proud to be a Soldier, but that trip gave me a whole new view of what it means to be a Soldier.”

Citarella’s cheerleading career began before his military career. “I was in college when I was asked to join the team. I had already participated in just about every sport offered, and I found cheerleading to be truly challenging. It takes skills from a variety of sports and combines them into one.”

During his senior year in college Citarella tried out for the Ravens’ cheerleading team, and in 1999 began his first year on the squad.

“By that time I was on active duty and stationed at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md.,” he said. “The command was really supportive of me doing this. They thought it was great because I was out in the community not only as a Ravens cheerleader, but as a Soldier too.”

The only time he hasn’t been with the Ravens was during his tour of duty at Fort Hood, Texas, Citarella said. “When I came off active duty, I came back to Maryland to join the National Guard and work with the squad.” He currently is the Maryland National Guard’s state education officer.

“One of the greatest honors I’ve had while on the squad was carrying the American flag out of the tunnel at the start of the first game after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks,” Citarella said. “That day definitely made me proud to be a Soldier and, at the same time, part of me was upset at not being over there with other Soldiers.

“The other squad members ask me what it’s like to be a Soldier, and it’s hard to explain to them what we do. I think that’s why the USO tour meant so much to me. The other team members were able to see for themselves what Soldiers do, and at the same time the tour communicated to the Soldiers how much people appreciate what they’re doing.”

COPYRIGHT 2004 Soldiers Magazine

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group