Honoring veterans who served

Tyriek Bell - Marshall University student-athlete
| By Melanie Whitt
Tyriek‘s promotion to Sergeant 1st Battalion, 1st Marines Camp Pendleton, California
Dive Deeper Learn more about Marshall football player and US Marine Corps veteran Tyriek Bell

It’s Veterans Day in Huntington.

In the late morning, a crowd begins to form at the Memorial Arch on the west end of the city to commemorate the day. A larger-than-life American flag hangs from the center, waving in the warm, early November breeze. As a band plays the Armed Forces Medley, an elderly man with silver hair salutes the flag from his folding chair.

“I feel like most of the time, a lot of people just by my appearance don’t assume I’m a veteran. It’s because they’re strangers, I’m a stranger, they don’t know who I am. They don’t know that, at one point, I did sacrifice my freedom for their freedom and I don’t think people quite understand the severity of that and how serious it is.”- Tyriek Bell

Boy Scout troops are at Spring Hill Cemetery, placing their final flags on the graves of those who served – veterans who are gone from this life, but not forgotten. Some of those being remembered gave the ultimate sacrifice. Others lived out long lives after their time at war. They are all honored for their service.

Local VFW groups are hosting Veterans Day luncheons. Other eateries offer discounts and freebies for showing up in uniform or by showing a military card.

Events honoring Veterans Day are familiar and recognizable, but not all veterans are.

Tyriek with the Family Readiness Officer on his last day working with 1st Battalion 1st Marines and his last day of active duty

On Marshall University’s Huntington campus, Tyriek Bell steps out of the Memorial Student Center and begins walking to his 10 a.m. sociology class in Smith Hall. He’s wearing a crisply ironed polo shirt, tailored pants and dress shoes. He’s also carrying a full, gallon-size jug of water. He needs to hydrate well ahead of football practice on these warm, fall days.

Bell is not an average student-athlete. He’s 26 years old and has already seen more of the world than some might see in a lifetime.

“I feel like most of the time, a lot of people just by my appearance don’t assume I’m a veteran,” said Bell. “It’s because they’re strangers, I’m a stranger, they don’t know who I am. They don’t know that, at one point, I did sacrifice my freedom for their freedom and I don’t think people quite understand the severity of that and how serious it is. When you are called to duty and you’re called to combat, that is the real deal.”

Bell is finishing up his time of inactive duty for the Marine Corps while studying and playing football at Marshall. His stint in active duty, which was initially supposed to be a non-infantry desk job, ended up as an adventure with an infantry unit that spanned thousands of miles of land and ocean, several countries and some sticky situations he wasn’t quite sure how he would get out of.

“It’s surreal. When I first got here, I thought, ‘This is the real deal.’ They’ve been training me. I’ve been tearing up my body to keep up with the program and then recovering from it and I’m still here, but feeling stronger.”- Tyriek Bell

“It was an experience,” said Bell, shaking his head. “We were out on the ocean one time and we were surrounded by a fleet of Asian ships and it looked like roughly between 100-300 of them and I didn’t know what was going to happen. There was another point where we were told we were going to go to Jerusalem to stand guard because President Trump was moving the embassy and we couldn’t tell our family about any of it. I thought many times, ‘How did I get myself here?’ It was an eye-opening experience.”

A self-proclaimed ‘workaholic’ – joining the military was not Bell’s initial plan. He was in high school, playing the sport he loves, just enjoying the moment. He began receiving recognition for his work on the field, which eventually led to offers to play in college. But, as the story goes for so many other people just starting out on their own, Bell says he made one bad decision, which ultimately altered the path of his life.

Tyriek Bell, 2016 School House Graduation, Camp Lejeune

“My first year of college, I got into some trouble during my second semester,” said Bell. “I got into a physical altercation. I found myself back where I started. One day, I was sitting on the couch and saw a commercial that said, ‘Have you spent your entire life fighting for others?’ It was the Marine Corps. I thought, ‘That’s me!’ I felt like that is where I belonged, because at that moment, I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere. Everything I had done to that point, I found a way to get myself into some trouble and it did not work out.”

Three days later, Bell enlisted.

“I felt like I didn’t have any self-control,” said Bell. “I felt like I was probably cocky and arrogant and I needed to be humbled a little bit and if I chose the Marine Corps, one of the toughest branches, they would find a way to humble me. So, I went into it expecting to get my butt kicked.”

Living up to the Marine Corps motto, “Always Faithful,” Bell served his time working long days, rarely taking leave and staying on top of his duties.

“It’s real. The world is real. No matter where you go, you’re going to run into a lot of the same things and it’s tough. I don’t think life gets any easier, I think you just get tougher as an individual and able to endure what life has for you.”- Tyriek Bell

“I worked 24/7 when I was on call,” said Bell. “I would wake up at 3 o’clock in the morning and go to work, 2 o’clock in the morning and go to work, whenever they needed me, I would be there. That was my job.”

Still, throughout his time in active duty, Bell had his own dream of returning to the gridiron.

“I believed that one day if I was able to finish this honorably, I’d be able to walk on and play football again anywhere,” said Bell. “I was like, ‘This is my four-year plan.’ Then, my four-year plan turned into a six-year plan with having to go to a junior college. Then I told myself, ‘If I’m going to play this sport and if I’m good at this sport, then maybe I’ll get some offers.’ I played one year in California and then COVID shut everything down, so that one year is all I had. I got several opportunities and offers to continue playing. I took that as a blessing. Marshall was interested in me back in 2014 and again in 2019 and 2020 and I thought that must be a sign.”

Bell took the leap of faith and stepped out onto the field at Joan C. Edwards Stadium, dressed in Kelly green–an older student-athlete with a young heart and a desire to pick up where he left off. He is now experiencing his own Marshall Moment.

“It’s surreal,” said Bell. “When I first got here, I thought, ‘This is the real deal.’ They’ve been training me. I’ve been tearing up my body to keep up with the program and then recovering from it and I’m still here, but feeling stronger.”

Tyriek Bell, Linebacker, Marshall Football

Bell didn’t begin playing organized football until he was in the seventh grade, and after a long time away from the sport while serving overseas, he now holds the lead at Marshall for special teams tackles.

“I don’t think people quite understand,” said Bell. “I was away from the game for such a long time, I missed a lot of the coaching experience. I’m just really appreciative for the opportunity.”

It’s a unique opportunity for a non-traditional student who has more years and experience under his belt than most others around him. It’s a scenario that is not lost on him.

“One of the main thoughts I have is a lot of these young individuals don’t know what to expect,” said Bell. “It’s real. The world is real. No matter where you go, you’re going to run into a lot of the same things and it’s tough. I don’t think life gets any easier, I think you just get tougher as an individual and able to endure what life has for you.”

That raw and real view of life is what propels Bell forward. He’s an active member of his community, serving others whenever he can. Recently a nominee for the coveted Wuerffel Trophy for community service among student-athletes, he exemplifies what service to others means. His life plan does the same. He wants to go to law school so he can continue to protect others in new ways.

“Veterans Day is an important day for the combat veterans and for everyone that served in the military, but I don’t see it as an important day for me because it’s never really been about me.”- Tyriek Bell

“It’s always been about protecting others,” said Bell. “As long as I can do that, I’ll be okay and I don’t have to be in the military to do it. There are ways we can protect people outside of the military. There are ways we can give back to the community outside of the military and just take care of each other.”

“Veterans Day is an important day for this country,” said Bell. “Veterans Day is an important day for the combat veterans and for everyone that served in the military, but I don’t see it as an important day for me because it’s never really been about me. It’s always been about people I love, people who believe in me and the people who care about me. No matter what life throws at you, how hard it is on you or how you’re treated, just find a way to love one another, because that love can go a long way and inspire a lot of people.”