Injuries are something that just about everybody in the NFL has to deal with. It’s important to understand that football is fleeting. It’s going to come and go. When our tight end Dennis Pitta went down, it was something I thought about a lot because it’s a serious game with serious injuries.
But then you look at the guys in the Wounded Warriors and at Walter Reed Hospital, and it puts it all into perspective. Those guys have to come back from much more serious injuries just to be able to live their lives. I feel fortunate that I am able to rehab this knee and will be able to play football again. They have to deal with maybe being disabled for the rest of their lives and getting used to that.
My passion for the military comes from different places. It starts with my Grandfathers, both of whom served in the Army. What they did, and what those in the military did early on, provided us with certain freedoms. I get to play in the NFL because they sacrificed and spent time overseas protecting our freedoms.
The second place I gain respect from is in the discipline, routine and uniformity of the military, and how everybody is on the same page. Each division has its own kind of personality, but everyone within that division is very disciplined. They have strict guidelines for how they conduct their training and are very goal-driven people. All of that has given me a great deal of respect for the military.
I know structure is important in everyone’s life. When I was making the best grades in school, when I was playing the best football growing up, it was when I had a lot going on. It sounds strange, but structure provides you focus and gives you the discipline to get things done throughout your day. That’s what I’ve always respected about the military; you always have a task to perform.
I’ve been working with Naval Academy long snapper Joe Cardona. He called me and wanted to meet up, so I started working with him this past summer. When we talk, I ask him about his routine and those kinds of things. I have helped him from a long snapping perspective as well. I also grew up with George Jamison, who plays safety for the Naval Academy. I grew up watching him and my brother play little league baseball. We saw him play in the Army-Navy game a few years back when it was at FedEx Field. I got to see him in uniform and that was a special experience as well. These guys are having an entirely different college football experience than I did because they have school on top of their military duties, and that’s all before they even go to football practice.
Another personal connection to the military is another good friend of my brother’s, Nick, who I spent time with growing up. A few years ago, when my brother told me he was going to the Army, I wanted to do something for him. I was signed with Nike at the time, and I had access to Army boots. So, with his permission, I bought him some good quality boots, which is important to soldiers. While serving in Afghanistan, Nick was on a roadside patrol inspecting a suspicious vehicle. While he was inside, a bomb exploded from underneath the car. Nick was blown through the windshield and thrown many yards away from the vehicle with only minor scrapes and bruising. Because his feet were underneath him at the time of the explosion, the shrapnel was embedded into the boots and saved his feet from major injury. When he came back from Afghanistan, he honored me by giving me the pocketknife that he carried with him, which was obviously a huge honor for me. I have it up there with my Super Bowl ring and everything else I’ve collected.
I haven’t been involved in one military initiative specifically. I read Eric Greitens’ book “The Heart and the Fist” a couple years back. I’ve since done some research on him, and when we played in St. Louis, I had the opportunity to meet him. He actually spoke in front of the team. Several of us had read the book. His organization is called the Mission Continues, which basically helps veterans gets back into the workplace.. The premise is to give them a new mission so that they can go and live their lives in a similar fashion that they did in the military where they have a purpose everyday. That was a cool one for me to get involved with.
I’m signed with Under Armour now, and they do a lot of work with the Wounded Warriors. It’s something I’ve thought about getting more directly involved with, especially since I’m injured now. Visiting hospitals and being able to talk to soldiers and lift their spirits up if I can at all…obviously the people who have come back injured have paid an ultimate price for their service, so they need help.
It’s truly humbling to be nominated for the Salute to Service Award. I was caught off guard when I found out. I was truly honored to be involved in that kind of award because I do have a great respect for the military starting as far back as I know with my Great Grandfather’s service. It’s something that I’ve always been involved with, I’ve read about a lot lately, and something everyone can learn from (especially the discipline part)…and it’s a huge honor for me.
I’d like to see even more camouflage out on the field in November, so it brings continued awareness to the servicemembers and their families. I don’t think there’s ever enough that what we can do for the military because of what they give us. Since I got into the league, Coach Harbaugh has placed great importance on the military. We toured Coronado Island when we went out to San Diego at one point and got to see the Navy SEALs, where they train, shake hands with them. What an honor to meet them. It’s awesome to not only be involved with the NFL and its military initiatives, but also to be with the Ravens and be so close to the Naval Academy and Andrews Air Force Base and see their operations. I admire them as much as, a lot of times, they admire us. They told us that watching our games, and the NFL games when they’re overseas, lifts their spirits a lot. To be able to reach out and touch each other like that is a really cool honor for me.
To me, it’s always Veterans Day. I’ve actually thought a lot about this. I don’t think we could ever stop serving the people that serve us. If you see somebody in line at the grocery store or at a gas station, maybe you can offer to pay for it. I think, based on experience, that they appreciate that. I just tell them, whatever I can do for you, however I can be of service, I appreciate what you do. Walking through the airport, I stop everybody that I can to say thanks for your service. November is an important month to honor them, but I don’t think it’s one day. You can help and show thanks for the military throughout the year because they are always serving…it’s just not one day for them.