LARAMIE — Ben Wisdorf has four games left in a Wyoming uniform. Maybe five.
A senior linebacker for the Cowboys, Wisdorf has been a part of the program for the last five years and suiting up for the local team the last four. He’s spent most of that time as one of Wyoming’s top reserves on the second level of the defense — he’s listed as Cassh Maluia’s backup at outside linebacker — but has also been a primary contributor on special teams.
Wisdorf has played in 37 games, including all 20 the last two seasons, and has 22 career tackles. He’s got two tackles for loss, and the fumble Alijah Halliburton returned to set up a field goal on the final play of the first half against Missouri in this year’s season opener? Wisdorf forced it.
The Cheyenne native has four more regular-season games to add to those stats starting Saturday when the Cowboys look to stay in contention in the Mountain West’s Mountain Division at No. 22 Boise State. A bowl game is likely with Wyoming already bowl-eligible at 6-2, though the Cowboys will need at least one more win with the Broncos, Utah State, Colorado State and Air Force still on the schedule to actually secure a postseason bid after last year’s snub.
But it’s not numbers that Wisdorf is all that concerned about as his collegiate career winds down. It’s someone in a different uniform.
“That’s why I’m really anxious,” Wisdorf said. “I’ll ask, ‘Have you heard anything? Have you heard anything?’ He doesn’t really know yet.”
Wisdorf and the rest of his family have been separated from his brother, Sgt. Jordan Wisdorf, for almost a year. Jordan, a member of the Wyoming Army National Guard, has been stationed in Afghanistan since January as a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crew chief.
Ben said he’s been able to FaceTime with Jordan a couple of times during his deployment, but being half a world away makes for a spotty internet connection at best. Jordan’s primary source of communication with his family is a group chat through WhatsApp messenger, a cross-platform mobile application.
But Ben is hoping to soon talk to his brother in person again. Though he hasn’t been given an exact date, Jordan is scheduled to return home some time this month with hopes of being back in Wyoming for Thanksgiving on Nov. 28.
That’s two days before Wyoming’s regular-season finale at Air Force, a game Ben has had circled for a while as the most likely Jordan could attend. In a perfect world, Jordan would make it back a week earlier to be there when Ben plays his final home game on Senior Night against Colorado State.
“He’s been there for it all,” Ben said. “He even came and watched when I was a redshirt. He’s been one of my biggest fans. I think it would mean a lot to both of us. It would be really cool to have my brother in the stands for that one.”
Jordan is the second-oldest of six Wisdorf children while Ben is the second-youngest. It made for a distinct age difference growing up — Jordan is 31 years old — but that never stopped the two from growing close.
“I was in the house with him throughout my childhood for most of the time, and then he stuck around even after high school,” Ben said.
There were the usual fights between brothers from time to time, but one of their bonds was sports, particularly football. Communicating with the Star-Tribune through WhatsApp, Jordan said one of his most vivid childhood memories was of Ben and another brother, Taylor, playing catch with their dad, Tim, while he played a certain kind of defense.
“They would take turns getting a running start and trying to catch it while I waited for them with a couch cushion and would try to hit them hard enough to make them drop the football,” Jordan said.
Ben stuck with football all the way through high school, where he lined up at receiver, safety and linebacker during his career at Cheyenne East. He helped lead the Thunderbirds to the Class 4A state championship as a junior and was a Star-Tribune Super 25 selection and a first-team All-State honoree as a senior.
That came with attention from colleges, but Wyoming didn’t offer him a scholarship. Living just 50 miles away from campus, playing for the state’s only four-year school was a dream for Ben, so he joined the Cowboys’ program as a preferred walk-on in 2015.
By that time, Jordan was already six years into his service. Jordan didn’t attend college and was working at a job he said he didn’t enjoy all that much when he decided to join the military just before his 21st birthday.
“I figured the guard could give me some good job training that could transfer to the civilian side or I could use the benefits to help me pay for college if I decided to go that route,” Jordan said.
Before this year, Jordan had never been deployed. He was sent to Fort Bliss, Texas, for pre-mobilization training on Jan. 5 before eventually going overseas, where he’s spent most of his time in forward operating bases in western and southern Afghanistan. Jordan is a chief on medical evacuation, or medevac, aircraft, where his crew works around the clock to respond to any injured troops in 15 minutes or less, he said.
“If we get a call, the medics, pilots and crew chiefs get to the point of injury as fast as we can and transfer the patient back to a field hospital to receive life-saving care,” Jordan said.
When Jordan does get a chance to talk to Ben, it serves as a break from the reality of his daily operations. Not a whole lot of that time is spent talking about work or football. Jordan’s family, including his wife, Desiree, and his 4-year-old daughter, Skyler, is usually the main topic of conversation.
“He’s always kind of curious how the dogs are doing, how his daughter is doing and how his wife is doing,” Ben said. “Just how life is back at home. He likes to hear about all of that stuff.”
The two don’t get to communicate much outside of the group chat, and depending on how busy Jordan is with missions, they can go weeks without talking like they did back in September. But Jordan had a surprise waiting for his younger brother.
Wyoming’s Mountain West opener against UNLV on Sept. 28 doubled as Military Appreciation Night at War Memorial Stadium. Jordan was always there to support Ben at his high school and college games before his deployment, and he usually messages his younger brother to wish him luck before each game this season.
But Jordan wanted to get as close as he could to being there that night, so he reached out to inform the university that he wanted to send his brother a video message. He filmed it with his cell phone while sitting in the back of one of his crew’s helicopters.
“I thought it would be a cool thing for Ben and the rest of my family to see me at the game,” Jordan said.
As commercials honoring troops played on the jumbotron at War Memorial Stadium during the first few TV timeouts, Ben couldn’t help but wonder if his brother might pop up on the screen. The first half came and went. No Jordan.
Ben began jogging toward the team’s locker room in the High Altitude Performance Center located behind the North end zone for the intermission. But before he got there, Wyoming coach Craig Bohl stopped him and told him to turn around. There was Jordan on the jumbotron giving a shoutout to his younger brother and the rest of his family.
Ben pointed toward the screen as he watched and blew his brother a kiss. He got goosebumps, too, which would’ve been accompanied by a few tears had he not fought so hard to hold them back.
“It was a really special moment. I wasn’t really expecting it,” said Ben, who was put on scholarship in 2017. “Just seeing him and hearing all the fans chant and show their appreciation for our troops, it kind of hit home for me. I got kind of emotional, especially when I went into the locker room. He’s been gone for a while, too. I miss him a lot.”
Jordan also prominently displayed in the video his combat helmet, which had the same Steamboat logo on it that’s featured on Wyoming’s football helmets. Ben sent the logo to Jordan in a care package. Several local media outlets told the story of the surprise moment.
“I never thought it would get as much attention as it did,” Jordan said. “The University of Wyoming and all of the people of Wyoming are so supportive, and it definitely makes me proud to represent my state overseas.”
Duty can call at any time, so exactly when Jordan will be back is unpredictable. As Ben waits, there’s school and football among other things to occupy his mind.
And Jordan won’t go straight to Wyoming when he returns to the States. He’ll have to go to Texas first for a debriefing that could take a week or two, but with Jordan scheduled to return home sooner rather than later, Ben’s patience is wearing thin.
“I try not to think about it too much because it’s like being a little kid waiting for a Christmas present you’re about to get from Santa,” Ben said. “It’s hard to wait for Christmas Day when you’re thinking about it all the time. I definitely think about it a lot.”
He’s not the only one.
Thanksgiving will also mark the fifth wedding anniversary for Jordan and Desiree, and Jordan would like nothing more than to celebrate it with her back home. Jordan is cautiously optimistic he’ll be back by then to the point that he’s already booked a hotel room in Colorado for his family in anticipation of attending that regular-season finale at Air Force.
“Nothing is guaranteed in the military, so hopefully I didn’t jinx myself by booking that trip in advance,” Jordan said.
Once Jordan does return, Ben wants to spend as much time as he can with his brother before he has to head out again. Jordan will leave for Alabama in February to begin flight school, but a cruise to the Bahamas in January has already been discussed, Ben said.
But Ben is counting on a reunion well before then. And he’s still holding out hope that Jordan will be there to see him in uniform one or two more times before he takes it off for good.
“It would mean the world,” Ben said.