CAF night has big impact on two Lions

Major Nick Arakgi (left) and his brother, BC Lions linebacker Jason Arakgi.

Major Nick Arakgi (left) and his brother, BC Lions linebacker Jason Arakgi. Photo courtesy of BC Lions

Matt Baker, BC Lions ~

The BC Lions Football Club was proud to hold Canadian Armed Forces Night when the Toronto Argonauts came to town last Thursday. Tickets were given to servicemen and servicewomen who may not otherwise be able to attend a game.

Hunter Steward and Jason Arakgi both have strong ties to the Canadian Armed Forces: Hunter’s Father Robin serves as a Lieutenant Colonel in the army, and was on hand assisting in the coin toss with Rear Admiral Gilles Couturier of the Royal Canadian Navy, while Jason’s older brother Nick currently serves as an infantry officer in the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry.

Football is often referred to as a “battle in the trenches” or a “war of attrition.” Considering the great game involves big hits, banging pads and lots of excitement, most of the time such comments are not met with much resistance.

“You compare it just because football is a match up of man against man and you have to physically dominate the other person,” Steward said. “It’s totally different than war absolutely. Lives aren’t at stake.”

The elder Steward has quite a decorated record serving our country, including a tour in Afghanistan in the first couple of years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“He was pretty high up in the ranks, I think a major at the time,” Hunter Steward said. The Lions offensive lineman was barely into his teens when his father went overseas, and he admits it was pretty intense times for the family. “I knew he wasn’t directly out in the field, but you still have all those concerns. I am very proud of the work he’s done.”

In addition to Afghanistan, Steward’s Father also did tours in Bosnia and Syria, and more recently, spent three years in South Korea working for the United Nations.

The Stewards’ military history began with Robin’s Father Dale flying sabres in the Royal Canadian Air Force before polio took him out of the position and prevented him from being enlisted in Korea.

“Military runs deep in my family’s blood,” Hunter added. The Lions’ 2013 first round selection estimates he lived in nine or ten cities from the time he was a toddler to when he graduated high school. While that would be tough on any youngster trying to make friends and live a normal life, Steward looks back on it and feels it was beneficial.

“I learned to embrace it. It has prepared me for this line of work. I haven’t moved around too much yet, (as a player) but in professional sports that can happen.”

Major Nick Arakgi first joined the Canadian Forces in 1998 and was deployed to Afghanistan between September 2008 and March 2009. While overseas, his duties included mentoring the Afghan National Police in plenty of dangerous situations, including many firefights. “He was going through a really hard time when he was there and a lot of friends and people he knew were lost,” Arakgi said of his brother. “The rare times he got a chance to call you could hear it in his voice, but he’s a strong individual and that’s the kind of people it takes to do that kind of stuff.”

While being tied with Rolly Lumbala as the second-longest tenured BC Lion is quite an accomplishment, Arakgi keeps everything in perspective compared to what Nick has endured the last 18 years. “My brother is my hero and always will be,” Arakgi said. “It makes me extremely happy that the CFL and BC Lions honour[ed] service men and women at [last] Thursday’s game. The sacrifice that they give for their country and its citizens is tremendous.”

Arakgi played his part by leading the team out through the tunnel with the Canadian flag prior to opening kickoff. In addition, the Canadian Armed Forces Band performed the National Anthem and select Armed Forces members took part in the usual in-game promos and contests. Halftime featured an obstacle course with one member from each of the army, navy and air force participating.

Giving thanks to the Canadian Forces and getting the chance to see his Father on the field pregame provided life long memories for Steward.

“It’s great. Any opportunity to honour the servicemen, military, police forces, coast guard, anything like that it’s great. They put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into everything they do and any chance you get to honour them is a great opportunity.”

To all the servicemen and servicewomen that were in attendance Thursday: we hope you enjoyed the game and thank you once again for your service to this great nation.

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