March 4, 2010

Three cheers for Binette's spirit, bravery

The Way

— I'm not much of a football person. I know the basics. Touchdown: Good. Fumble: Bad.

click image to enlarge

click image to enlarge

I like the New England Patriots well enough, because, you know, as a Mainer, what choice do I have? And, of course, I think Tom Brady is amazing. (Except, and this is just MY humble opinion, he's hanging out with the wrong Gisele.)

That said, I am really hoping I can attend at least one Patriots home game this season. Not for the players or the game. But for the cheerleaders.

One cheerleader in particular: Carrie Binette.

If you call yourself a Main-ah (there it is, your weekly Word-Gone-Maine) you should cheer for her, too.

She is a 2003 graduate of Biddeford High School who is now living in Massachusetts and working as a graphic designer. She also is working part time as a cheerleader on the Patriots squad. This is her third year on the squad, but it will also be her last. The women who are lucky enough to get picked have term limits. Three years, maximum.

But the fact that Carrie is even on the squad is eye-poppingly awesome. Each year, about 300 women try out for the chance to wear the silver, red, white and blue ''cheer-kini.'' Only 24 of them make the team (this year, though, there are 29). So, needless to say, Carrie is one of the best of the best.

And here's another eye-poppingly awesome thing about Carrie. She's been honored by the U.S. military with an Army National Guard coin of appreciation for bravery under fire.

The ''under fire'' part didn't happen in Foxboro, by the way.

It happened in Afghanistan, in July, when Carrie and four other squad members flew over to support the troops, perform for them and bring a little bit of home to Kunar province.

Carrie had no reservations about going over. She volunteered without any worry for her own personal safety. Her mom, Karen Binette, on the other hand, wasn't too thrilled.

''My first thought was, 'NO!''' Karen said when we discussed her daughter's journey to the conflict zone. ''Then I told her to sign up, because it didn't necessarily mean she'd be chosen. And then, when she was picked, my husband and I thought about it and I said, 'They're not going to send her there if it's dangerous.'''

Well

A few days into the trip, Carrie and her friends were pulling away from a base in a Black Hawk when

'' I heard (the pilot) yelling: 'Break right. Break left.' I didn't know, I thought it was standard,'' Carrie said when we recently talked about her adventure. Turns out it was the standard -- for when a military helicopter comes under enemy fire.

Way more frightening than a 300-pound football player barreling headlong into a pile of cheerleaders near the end zone.

Thankfully, no one was hurt. Carrie's military liaison tried to comfort her by joking about it.

''That was the Taliban trying to say hello to you girls,'' he said, according to Carrie. It helped. Carrie was shaken up, but knew she was in good hands.

''They kept us safe,'' she said. ''But it just shows the realities of the war and what they go through every day. For us to be that close to the action really put it in perspective.''

Mostly what she takes away from the experience are the smiles, the hugs, the warmth and the gratitude expressed from each of the troops she met.

She's done a lot as a New England Patriots cheerleader. She's attended VIP events. She trained Chinese cheerleaders in preparation for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. She went to Arizona to cheer her team on during Super Bowl XLII. (But don't blame her for the upset win by the Giants.)

During football season, at every home game, she stands where most die-hard Pats fans can only dream of standing: the end zone of Gillette Stadium, under the lights, in front of thousands of screaming fans. (By the way, believe it or not, she has never, ever met any of the players).

Regardless, the experience she had in Afghanistan was hands-down the richest and most rewarding she's had thus far.

''It was an amazing opportunity to support our country,'' Binette said, summing it up. ''I love the military, and I love what they do for us. They protect and keep us safe.''

Even knowing what she knows now, she says she still would do it again in a heartbeat.

''I guess that says how rewarding it was.''

If you would like to see more photos of Carrie and her teammates ''in uniform,'' visit www.patriots.com/cheerleaders/ and click on the photo gallery. You'll have to type ''Afghanistan'' in the search frame.

Staff Writer Giselle Goodman can be reached at 791-6382 or at:

ggoodman@pressherald.com

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