The Washington Post

Navy-air Force 9/11 game holds special significan­ce for Midshipmen’s punter

- BY KAREEM COPELAND kareem.copeland@washpost.com

Ricardo Grave de Peralta was training with the FBI in Virginia when the first plane slammed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center 20 years ago. He was ordered to immediatel­y return to the D.C. field office when a second plane flew into the South Tower. The former Navy SEAL was sent to the roof as a sniper looking for possible truck bombs in the chaotic moments afterward as Washington began to shut down with the scale of the attacks still uncertain.

At the same time, his wife, Tiffany, had just returned home from a walk with their infant son, Kellen. She was set to return from maternity leave to the Office of Naval Intelligen­ce across the river from the Pentagon, which also was attacked Sept. 11, but Tiffany had taken extra time to remain home.

Ricardo would go on to work on the 9/11 investigat­ion for two years, including spending eight months in Guantánamo Bay interrogat­ing prisoners. Kellen would grow up to play football, turning himself into a good enough punter that he will suit up for Navy on Saturday as the Midshipmen host Air Force.

The game, the 54th meeting between the service academies and part of the competitio­n for the Commander-in- Chief ’s Trophy, also will commemorat­e the events of that day 20 years ago, the deadliest attack on U.S. soil.

Fourteen Naval Academy graduates and two Air Force graduates lost their lives in the attacks. Most of the players participat­ing aren’t old enough to remember 9/11, but they all know how dramatical­ly the world changed that day.

“I can’t even describe the thoughts that I’m having; it’s almost surreal,” Kellen said. “Every player on the team, whether they play or not this weekend, we already know how important this game is, not just from a football standpoint but from the representa­tion.

“This is what that game represents. It represents all the people who died that day and all the people who died after that day in response to those horrific attacks.”

Ricardo Grave de Peralta thinks about all that changed that day, from the way people travel to everyday security measures to how the FBI and intelligen­ce agencies operate. The tragedy even affected how he and Tiffany would raise their two sons. They were already a military family with strong Christian beliefs, but the events of 9/11 added to what they wanted to pass along.

“As a SEAL, I saw a lot of the worst that humanity has to offer,” Ricardo said. “I also saw some of the best. My experience, whether it was down in Guantánamo talking to these guys or some of the other investigat­ions that I’ve worked on, it only reinforced the fact that there is, unfortunat­ely, evil in the world. And you’ve got to be prepared to confront it. And there’s going to be challenges. There’s going to be things that you’re going to have to confront, and you can’t shy away from it.

“And if there’s anything that I’ve tried to teach my boys as they’ve been growing up, [it] is not to be afraid of confrontat­ion, not to be afraid to take on challenges. It has helped shape both my wife and I in terms of helping shape them to understand what the real world is like.”

There’s a feeling that fate led the Grave de Peralta family to this moment Saturday. Tiffany didn’t come from a military family and was actually a French major when she left college, but her father pushed her toward joining the Navy Officer Candidate School in Newport, R.I. That’s where she met Ricardo; the two first connected while paired on an overnight watch duty. The two would eventually have Kellen, who attended the Naval Academy Prep School across the street from that same OCS. Kellen simply wanted to play in the Football Championsh­ip Subdivisio­n; when he received a scholarshi­p offer from Navy, it was an easy decision. Kellen called it one of the only moments he has seen his dad cry.

“We’ve raised our family patriotica­lly, even before [Sept. 11] but most definitely afterward,” Tiffany said. “We’ve just raised them to love the country, support our democracy in any way that they can.”

Note: Navy will wear special uniforms Saturday inspired by the Marine Corps. The Midshipmen will don blue jerseys with red piping and white helmets.

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