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Ex-4th ID commander working at Southern Mississippi

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Posted: Wednesday, December 21, 2011 12:00 pm

By Angel Verdejo

Fort Hood Herald

Before quarterback Brett Favre set numerous passing records at the University of Southern Mississippi, that role belonged to Jeffery Hammond.

Favre is a Super Bowl champion and soon will be an NFL Hall of Famer.

Hammond became a major general in the Army and returned to his alma mater last year to work in the athletic department.

The former commander of the 4th Infantry Division during part of its time at Fort Hood and its third deployment to Iraq is now the university's interim athletic director.

Both spoke recently, comparing notes on today's college football to their own times. Hammond quarterbacked Southern Miss from 1976 to 1978, while Favre led the Golden Eagles from 1987 to 1990.

"The one thing that was obvious was back when I played and even when he played, you could either run as a quarterback, or you could throw or you could think," Hammond said. "One of those three, but seldom would you find a kid that could do all three: throw, run and mentally grasp the components of the game.

"But today, you've got to have all three in one kid or you're not going to win."

Hammond admits he probably wouldn't fare too well in college football today, but he continues to relish the opportunity he was given roughly 17 months ago by his alma mater. Originally hired as a senior associate athletic director, Hammond has done a little bit of everything within the department.

That includes an ongoing search to replace ex-head coach Larry Fedora, who took the head coaching job at North Carolina. He's also helping to ready the Golden Eagles for their upcoming bowl game in Hawaii.

Southern Mississippi finished the regular season at 10-2 and then pulled off one of the country's biggest upsets when the Golden Eagles knocked off unbeaten and seventh-ranked Houston 49-28 to capture the Conference USA title. They now face Nevada on Christmas Eve in the Hawaii Bowl.

"It was part of a dream - not necessarily a plan - but my wife and I knew that when we chose to leave the Army that we would want to pursue something that we can continue to give back," Hammond said. "Giving back was paramount to anything we were going to do with our lives post-Army. We didn't want to go work, like a lot of general officers do, and go make a lot of money in the defense industry.

"That just didn't match up against giving back. The University of Southern Mississippi, which is our home, gave us an opportunity to come back. So we just shifted the effort from loving soldiers and families to loving the Southern Mississippi family."

Hammond's first chapter with Southern Mississippi included earning his bachelor's and master's degrees in special education. In 1978, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant and returned to the university as an assistant professor of military science from 1984 to 1987.

He also met his wife, Diane, who is also a Southern Mississippi graduate.

"It's become my adopted home, starting with my college years and continues to this day," Hammond said.

His travels with the military took Hammond to South Korea, Saudi Arabia and Iraq, as well as to installations across America. Hammond served in the Army's Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff in Washington, D.C., before taking command of the 4th Infantry Division at Fort Hood and one of its three tours in Baghdad.

Athletes and others have asked Hammond of his time in the military, including the popular question, "What's combat like?"

"It's horrific. It's ugly, and it changes lives in both positive and - sadly too often - negative ways," Hammond said. "Some of them are curious. It's not too often you get an Army general officer showing up on your doorstep working with these kids that's played college football and was a team captain here.

"I think my background - where I came from and what I've done - makes them easily accept me. 'This guy's paid his dues. He's one of us, and he's gone off and done other things.'"

In addition to being an administrator with the athletic department, Hammond has used his background in other areas. Before the season, Fedora asked Hammond to help with the team's on-the-field leadership, so Hammond helped train the team's leaders.

He's also become a living example of another option for the Southern Mississippi athletes. Hammond said some have asked about a career in the military.

"My ability to lead was shaped on the football field at Southern Miss. It was refined during my years on active duty, and now I'm getting the chance to impart many lessons learned in that regard," Hammond said.

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