Written by: Morgan Cox

How The Military Changed My Perspective

November 26, 2014

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. 

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Written by: Pat McAfee

My Duty As An American

November 25, 2014

My older brother’s best friend growing up, Matt, who sort of acted like an older brother to me, signed up for the Army as soon as he graduated from high school. He went over to Iraq and was discharged after an IED blew up on him. It was that moment when I really understood what it means when these men and women sign on the line to join our military. They are willing to sacrifice everything for the greater cause of our country.

When I became a rookie in the NFL, I really got a chance to meet with veterans of the United State Military. Whenever you meet these people who have been wounded, who have served our country, it kind of puts everything in perspective…especially how small the game of football really is in the grand scheme of life. Every time I talk with them, I ask to hear their stories. Their bravery is so honorable. They are the real heroes, and I truly believe that from the bottom of my heart. That’s why whenever I get the chance to do anything related to the military, I do it. And I think everybody should have that mindset. We owe them a lot.

If Veteran’s Day were everyday, it wouldn’t be enough. I think one day to really honor these people is a fantastic tribute. I don’t think it’s enough, but I don’t think there ever would be enough ways to thank them for what they do for our country.. Veteran’s Day is awesome. Salute to Service Month is awesome. But I think they deserve thanks every day, and I think that’s how a lot of us in the NFL feel. The NFL has a lot of power, and I’m just happy that the shield is putting its efforts behind the men and women of our military.

My Foundation, the Pat McAfee Foundation, gives scholarships to children of military families. Over the past two years, we’ve given over $40,000 in scholarships. And we’re still just getting up and running and getting it going. That’s been a lot of fun.

I also do a lot of work with Wish For Our Heroes, which is a Foundation founded here in Indiana – by vets for vets – taking care of the smallest things, day in and day out. We recently remodeled a house of a Purple Heart recipient, and gave him brand new appliances and furniture. That is probably the coolest thing I’ve ever been part of. To really put a face with a cause – a wounded veteran – it was so cool to give back to him. And I wish I could do that for every single wounded vet that we have. And that’s what I’m trying to do…trying to take care of as many people as I possibly can who are associated with the military.

I had a Halloween party a few weeks ago that was a benefit for Wish For Our Heroes. We gave a beautiful single mom, who’s a vet, a check for $10,000 for expenses. At last year’s Salute to Service game, we reunited a military husband with his wife and two sons and donated a new Toyota SUV to the family.

There are so many things, and I’m very lucky to be part of them. And that’s exactly how I look at it…I’m just lucky to be part of it. It’s so much fun to see their reactions, especially when you think deep down that those are the real heroes. Anybody that’s willing to sign that line and sacrifice it all for our country, they deserve endless amounts of thanks for the rest of their lives.

While it was awesome to be nominated for the Salute to Service Award, I feel that this is something that I’m supposed to do. I realized a few years ago that people put me on a pedestal, that I’m in the limelight, in a fishbowl. If I mess up, a lot of people will see it. And if I do right, a lot of people will see it as well. As NFL players, we get a platform to do a lot of really great things for the community, and I’m hoping to use mine in a light that helps the military forever. Until I die, I think I’m going to be thanking the military.

There’s something called Hoosier hospitality here in Indiana, and if you’ve never been here, you can’t really understand it. The people of Indianapolis are absolutely flawless when it comes to helping out the community. Whatever cause they can get behind, they do. When Chuck Pagano got sick, even though this city barely knew him, they were all in on the Chuckstrong movement. It’s the same way we take care of our vets here. Whether it’s the Indiana Pacers honoring World War II vets at halftime, the city of Indianapolis, the state of Indiana, and most importantly, Hoosiers, like to take care of their own. We look at them as heroes and we’re willing to help out as much as possible. That’s kind of the way it is in Indiana.

To all of the servicemen and women out there, you are much tougher than I’ll ever be. You have more guts than I’ll ever have. You’re a much bigger hero than I could ever fathom being. Thank you so much for signing that line and willing to sacrifice everything for our country. You have made our world a better place, and I’m so thankful for your time and service to our country.

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Written by: Roy Miller III

A Very Meaningful Honor

November 20, 2014

It means a lot to me to be nominated as a Salute to Service Award recipient because of what these servicemen and women do for our country. Also, my Father served in the Army for over 20 years. The military community did a lot for me growing up, and it means a lot to be able to give back to this community.

I really feel like the Army did a great thing for our family. It took us out of poverty and gave us a stable life. It was a solid, safe upbringing. It gave my Dad a chance to have a respectable career and learn discipline, which he’s passed down to me. He went to work everyday at 4a.m. and came home at 5p.m. He made all kinds of different sacrifices and risked his life at war for our country. It shows you the character of this man and gave me a lot of respect for him.

I’m proud that my Father served in the military, and I’m proud of all of the things that he’s done and all of the sacrifices that he made for our family and our country. I embrace it. I could look back and pinpoint everything, but I just think he did a great job overall of showing and teaching me things. And I really think so much of it carried over to the NFL.

It’s important to me that my Dad knows how much respect I have for the servicemen and women that he’s been to war with – and did or did not come home with – and so I try to give back to the servicemembers and their dependents as much as possible. I know how stressful their lives can be and how taxing it can be on the whole family.

He sees the newspaper clippings and reads online about the work that I’m doing, and it definitely brings a smile to his face to see me giving back to these communities. Like I said, the Army has given so much to me, and I feel like it is my duty to give back.

I’m proud that our Foundation is providing kids at Ft. Hood military base in Texas, where I grew up, with opportunities to hear from people who spent time there and went on to be successful. I’m especially proud of our annual football and cheerleading camp, where we host hundreds of kids for free. And the most important part is that we have current and former NFL players and cheerleaders who grew up around Ft. Hood come back just for the camp.

Not only do we have a great showing of kids, but they also recognize the faces of the people who come back for the camp every year. And the kids listen to them because they respect the type of people they are and understand that this person is from my community and I can be like them. It really doesn’t work unless the kids get to know who these people are, spend time with them and trust them. Putting on this free camp for the two days that we do is so vital.

Growing up on a military base, you don’t really get to see consistent faces. People are coming and going, moving and getting transplanted into different communities.

There’s not really a face of the base, so to speak. So it’s hard to aspire to be something if you don’t have mentors or an understanding of the history of where you are. That’s one of the biggest issues in military communities, and I think the camp has been able to help with this, as well as provide a platform for people from the area who have gone on to be successful to come back and share their stories.

I can’t say it enough, but I think it’s really important that the NFL recognizes the vets and servicemen and women. To me, all I knew was the military. It brought so much peace to me because it was who my Dad was and what he fought for.

The military fights for us so that we could be whoever we want to be. It really means a lot to me, especially when I go back home, to see these soldiers in wheelchairs, and all of the amputees, who – thanks to them – have really allowed us to do what we love to do. I can’t thank them enough and I’m really happy that the NFL can thank these guys, like my father, like my uncles, like my brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law, who all serve in the military and continue to fight for our freedom. 

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Written by: J.J. Watt

Texans Star J.J. Watt Talks Military & More

November 18, 2014

In honor of Veteran’s Day and the NFL’s Salute to Service initiative, SportsBlog sat down with two-time Pro Bowler J.J. Watt to talk about his connection and work with the military, the meaning behind his post-sack salute, his feelings about receiving a Salute to Service Award nomination and much more. Check out what the Houston Texans defensive end had to say here:

Q: Where does your passion for the military come from?

A: My grandfather was in the Korean War, so that’s part of it.

But I play a game for a living, and I realize that people look up to us as athletes and look up to us as role models. As athletes, we look up to people too. I think that we get so much media coverage and a certain amount of fame for playing this game, and I think the people that really deserve that fame and that coverage are the men and women of the military because they are the people who go out there and put their lives on the line. They play a life or death game. And I just go out there and play a game with a football. I feel like any chance that I get, any chance that we get as athletes, we should use our platform and coverage to give recognition, to give thanks, to show our appreciation to the men and women of the military who make it possible for us to do this for a living.

Q: With that said, what does Veteran’s Day mean to you?

A: It means a great deal. It’s a chance for us to remember what these men and women have done for us…it’s a chance to say thank you to those people who have served, to those who have fought and put their lives on the line so we can live the lives that we do.

Q: A lot has been spoken about your post-sack military salute. What message are you trying to send when you do that?

A: It goes back to that little bit of recognition. When there’s a sack, you know all the cameras are on you, you know a lot of the focus is on you. A real quick salute is just another reminder that I appreciate them.

I know the story has been told many times, but the story behind it is that I had it wrong at first. I thought that the salute was my way of showing the fans that I had showed up for work that day. I likened the military salute to reporting for duty, so I was showing the fans that I was reporting for duty. I found out later that that wasn’t correct.

But then I continued on with the salute because I’ve had military men and women come up to me and say that they appreciate that I do that. I know that I do not do the salute exactly correctly, mostly because I get so excited. I have so much adrenalin going, and I’m so in the moment and that’s what comes out of it. But, it’s really cool to me when men and women in the military come up to me and tell me that they appreciate it. I had it wrong at first, but now the salute is about that little bit of recognition when I know the cameras are on me.

Q: Did you ever receive official instructions on how to do the salute properly?

A: I have. I have gotten the official instructions from a Navy Cross recipient. He taught me it. So I know how to do it properly. I tried it in a game once, and I even screwed it up then because I was so dang excited! I have to slow my emotions down a bit when I try it next time!

Q: What are some of the military initiatives that you are focused on these days?

A: Here in Houston, I give 20 tickets to each home game to children and families of the military. It’s mainly geared toward children who have a parent currently serving, so it’s a way for me to give back to those families and say thank you to them and their mom or dad for serving our military. There are so many people affected when someone joins the military, so I try to give those kids a great experience. They get to come down to the tunnel before the game and high five all of us players as we go out onto the field and I really think that’s neat.

Q: What was the experience of visiting troops in Afghanistan like?

A: I did the USO Tour last year and it was incredible. It’s one of those experiences that I’ll never forget for the rest of my life. To be able to go over there and see exactly what it’s like, to be face to face with the men and women over there serving in their environment, to be able to shake their hand, to look them in the eye and say thank you and let them know how much everybody back home is thinking of them and how much we appreciate them…it was awesome.

Before I was leaving for Afghanistan, so many people told me to let them how much we all appreciate them. So to be able to be the messenger for such a thankful nation…that’s really cool.

And they were telling me how they would stay up and try to find ways to watch our games. The picture might be blurry and grainy, but they try and watch it in the middle of the night. Stories like that are really cool too.

Q: How does it feel that the Texans and the NFL help give you a platform to say thank you and execute some of these initiatives?

A: It’s awesome! One of our favorite things as players is getting to wear the camouflage gear for Salute to Service, and getting to say thank you to some of the servicemen and women. I’m very fortunate to be in a situation where I can say thank you.

Q: What does it mean to you to be nominated for the Salute to Service Award?

A: I feel honored and humbled to be nominated, but I also don’t feel like I deserve any type of award. We don’t deserve credit for showing our appreciation. We’re athletes, we’re football players. They are the real heroes.

The servicemen and women deserve the credit, they deserve the thanks and they deserve the appreciation and the headlines. As players, we just try to do what we can to say thank you and do what we can to make sure they get recognized because they truly are the ones who are putting their lives on the line. We go out there and we play a game. They do the real work.

Q: What are your long-terms goals as far as the impact you’d like to make on the military community?

A: I want to keep working to show my thanks. I’m going to keep giving game tickets to the kids for as long as I play. I’m going to keep that going because I think it’s important.

I’m not sure if I will have the opportunity to do another USO Tour down the road or not, but I would like to do that again. I enjoyed that very much, and I hope there will be another opportunity like that.

And I’ll always do the little things, like saying thank you every time I see a serviceman or woman. And all of this will continue down the line because I realize how fortunate I am to live freely because of the men and women who have sacrificed so much. 

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Written by: Vincent Jackson

My Life’s Work

November 14, 2014
That's me with my parents when I was 10 years old (sorry it's a little blurry!)

Veteran’s Day is a holiday where we get to take time aside to really acknowledge the servicemen and women in our country…those currently serving, those who are retired and those who have made the ultimate sacrifice and are no longer with us. It’s a day to honor all branches of the military and give a standing ovation for what they do for our country.

I’m a military brat myself. My dad served 21 years in the Army. Fortunately he wasn’t deployed too often, but he was gone enough for me to understand how it felt. And a lot of our family members and lifelong friends are involved in the military, so I have seen the deployment conversation happen over and over. I felt like there was a niche there that wasn’t really covered as far as how parents can talk to their kids about this and make it a relatable conversation for young kids to understand.

So this year we released a children’s book, “Danny Dogtags”, which is a tool to not only help parents cope with having this tough conversation, but a fun read for the youth. It’s hard for military families to sit down and have a conversation about deployment. How do you sit down with a kid between the ages of 4 and 12 and tell them that Mom or Dad has to go away for three months, six months, a year, longer? We tried to make it a little bit lighthearted while still getting the message across and giving these families the tools to endure that hardship and help them cope with the situation.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were a big part of this first book, just for the fact that we wanted to make it a real-life story for the military families that live here in Tampa. It’s very real, there’s nothing that’s too made up, actually. A lot of it is based on my background, as far as what my family went through and living in different locations.

We sell most of our books online through the Tampa Bay Buccaneers website and at a few other local bookstores around here.

The feedback has been great so far, and it’s very cool to be a published author! We hope to be able to continue the series of the book with Danny Dogtags as our main character and continue to touch on different aspects of military life, while also giving these youth some good mentorship. I think this next one will be more about physical health and making good choices in your diet, all based around the military lifestyle. I’m very proud of it.

This past Veteran’s Day was the second anniversary since I launched the Jackson In Action 83 Foundation, which provides support to military families. It’s such a blessing. I couldn’t be more proud of what we’ve accomplished. It’s been a lot of hard work, but it’s been worth every minute. We’ve really touched a lot of lives in a short amount of time. It’s very hands-on for me. I attend every event that we put on. It’s not a big corporation; it’s our executive director, my wife and me. All of the funds we raise go back into our programs. It’s all for the military families.

We’re a very active Foundation. We’re not just a Foundation that looks to do a couple fundraisers a year. We are all about our programs, which vary from our youth reading programs, fitness camps, events for military moms and dads, surprise visits and reunions, teaming up with other local businesses to bring military families out to Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Lightning games. We are doing a home makeover (like something you’d see on HGTV) for a family now. We’ve really been able to outstretch our arms to our military personnel in so many different ways.

We do this by basically reaching out directly to military families. Right here in our backyard we have MacDill Air Force Base, which is one of the largest and most important bases in our country, being that they are a central command center for our nation. We reach out to those active duty (and some retired) military members and ask them what we can we do, how can we better serve you? We find out straight from the mouths of the military, not just come up with ideas that we think are good for them. We’re hearing what they need, we’re talking to them actively every week, and that’s what we base our programs on.

A few weeks ago, during our bye week, we were able to reach out to the military base and find 40 military families – specifically moms – who are either pregnant or had a child within the last year. We know that children can be expensive, especially when it’s your first one, and you don’t know what to expect or all of the things you need. We secured a great location (the Epicurean Hotel) and threw a baby shower for them. It was really a surprise because they probably thought they were getting treated to a nice lunch and maybe a few take-home items. But we ended up securing over $1,000 worth of baby gear (strollers, cribs, diaper bags, things like that) for each and every mom. Forty different families were able to get a pretty significant amount of gear.

I was in the 9th year of my career when I decided to actually launch my own Foundation. Throughout my career, I’ve been involved in numerous charities (from pediatric cancer to feeding the homeless, all over the board), and I loved doing it all. That’s one of the things that I love about my job; that I’m able to reach out to the community and make an impact. When I decided to create my own Foundation, I really wanted it to be about something that was true to me and something I had experience with and could directly relate to. The military was a perfect fit for me. I grew up a military brat, traveling around and living on different bases throughout the country and overseas. It just made sense for me because this is what my family was about. I definitely can relate to each and every one of the families we try to touch.

And it’s truly an honor to be nominated for the Salute to Service Award. There are so many guys in the NFL that do a lot of great charity work, and the NFL as a whole has just been so philanthropic for a long time and so supportive. They even surprised us with a grant for some of our Foundation’s programs.

I’ve been so blessed. As players, we’re looked up to as role models in our communities and across the nation, and I think it’s important for professional athletes of all sports to embrace that platform that we have and use it to improve somebody’s life. It does take some time, but I think the endeavor is well worth it because there are so many people who can benefit from a little bit of our time. And I’m happy to give that and make a lasting impact.

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Written by: Jimmy Graham

Proud To Be An American

November 13, 2014

Growing up in a military community, with the helicopters flying above, seeing my family literally walk through the door every day in their uniforms, you grow up with a sense of pride and respect for the flag. I know what the members of the military do and have done to uphold the flag so that we can do the things that we do. And so for me, the military is very close to my heart.

Growing up, I always thought that I would be in the military. My road to football was a little different. I only played football for six months in college before I got drafted. I said that if football doesn’t work out for me, I’m going to join the military. That was a big option for me.

My stepfather was a drill sergeant. If you can imagine, many of the qualities that I have as a man were taught to me at a young age the way a drill sergeant would instill them. He was a loving man, but he expected a lot and was really hard on me. I remember, as a kid, doing PT (Physical Training) with him. So every morning, he woke up and ran and worked out and literally went on marches. And I used to wake up and run with him, and he used to sing the cadences. Even at a young age, it instilled discipline in me…discipline and self-control that helped me later in life.

As a teenager, you have many things in front of you and decisions to make, and I was able to stay disciplined through all of these things and stay focused on my goals of going to college and getting my education. I had the discipline to come in every day during high school and work out by myself. No one was telling me to do that, that’s just what I did.

This past summer, I actually went on a USA Tour over in Afghanistan and spent several days in Camp Leatherneck, a base that thousands of Marines live on year round. Words can’t really describe it. I felt honored to be there. A lot of the soldiers I talked to had been there for a year already. Each day, I spent every meal with the troops, and every waking moment that I was there, I was meeting a new group of Marines.

Some of them are kids. There are Marines over there who are 18 or 19 years old. Some of them look so young, coming to me with a big smile, literally telling me, “I always wanted to meet you” and “Thank you for the fantasy points” and “Thank you for being here.” I felt honored that they would say that to me because that’s how I felt. I was there to thank them for their service and for sacrificing a lot for this country.

It was awesome to be able to go over there and shake hands and share stories and tell them personally thank you for what you do for us. I know that for a lot of those guys, when you’re over there, and you’ve been over there several times, and you know how long it feels, I think sometimes there’s a disconnect with what’s going on back here in the U.S. It was awesome to be able to go there and see those smiles and share my NFL stories and say thank you…not only from myself, but also from the Saints, from the NFL, and from everyone back home.

They were so inviting, it was a great time, it really was. To this day, I still talk to a bunch of people I met there, which is pretty interesting. And for the last six months, I’ve been able to communicate over e-mail and text message with a lot of soldiers that are still over there. Listening and hearing their stories…that’s been rewarding.

Actually, an interesting story about what happened right before I left for Afghanistan…the trip ended up falling right before free agency started. I got on the plane and told my agent to e-mail me what was going on, and that if I become a free agent, we’ll deal with it when I get back. It was a big moment, trying to determine what’s going on in my career, but I was going on that trip. But I ended up getting franchised, which I found out about while I was in Dubai, on my way to Afghanistan. My phone was blowing up, and I was getting e-mails like crazy. I was like, okay, we’ll figure this out when I get back.

I also recently had the opportunity to visit the Navy SEALs in Virginia Beach. Drew was a big part of bringing us there, and a few of us had the opportunity to go and share information on leadership and talk about how each of our groups does things. A lot of the things we learned from there we’ve been able to share and bring back to our team, even things like their nutrition and the way they eat. The SEALs train so specifically and their bodies are so important that recovery and what they eat and all these things are so important. They’ve taken that next to step to their training…and we can implement some of those things into what we do too.

Our team has also done some events for the military. A couple weeks ago, we had soldiers here at the Saints facility, and we played Call of Duty with them, and with some soldiers we were Skyping with in Afghanistan. I got to sit down and talk to, not only guys in Afghanistan, but also the soldiers that were here, sign some stuff, and tell them thanks for their service and for what you’ve done for us.

I have so many family members and friends in the military, and I know how difficult it can be for these males and females to be gone for specific amounts of time, sometimes gone fighting a war…sacrificing time spent in their kids’ lives and in their relationships with others. I try to do all that I can. If there’s ever anything that comes my way that has anything to do with the military, I’m all for it. You can count me in. I feel like it’s my duty to do my part because I know that most of these individuals are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice, which is their life, and that’s true honor. So I’m going to do my part, as little as it might be, to help them and their families. Not only are the troops sacrificing, but their families are sacrificing as well.

I do these things for my love of the military and for the soldiers. It has noting to do with any kind of award. I do this for them and their families.. They are not thanked enough for what might seem to them a normal thing, but to me and to us, it’s the ultimate. With that said, I am I’m truly honored to be nominated for the Salute to Service Award. It’s an honor that my name would even be considered for something like this. It truly means so much to me, especially because literally my entire family and so many friends have – and still are – serving. It’s extremely special.

I think the NFL hit it right on the head and does Salute to Service the right way. For forever, the military has been such a big part of this game. Before games, there’s an American flag rolled out across the field, our national anthem is sung. For years and years, fighter jets fly over non-dome stadiums. And when I’ve witnessed that, I get chills to the bone. I feel proud, not only to play in the NFL, but proud to be an American. 

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Written by: Ben Garland

The Best Of Both Worlds

November 11, 2014

I am a Denver Broncos offensive guard and I am also a captain in the Colorado Air National Guard at Buckley Air Force Base. It’s an amazing experience to have the opportunity to wear the two best uniforms in the world. And I couldn’t be prouder to put on either one, whether I have that “U.S. Air Force” on my chest or I get to put on the Broncos helmet and run out onto the field.

It’s a unique story. After four years at the Air Force Academy, all cadets are given 60 days of leave, where they usually take the time to relieve stress and take a break after four hard, hard years. Instead of taking my leave, I went to Broncos training camp in 2010, which was my initial rookie year. After training camp was over, I went on the military reserve list, which is a lot like IR, where you’re on the team, but you can’t really practice or play in the games.

Then I was stationed at the Academy, so I would go to work at the Academy early in the morning and then I’d drive up to practice, work out with the team, and drive back and continue working at the Academy. I did that my second year while I was still on the military reserve list. My third year I went through the “Palace Chase” program with the Air Force, where I was able to leave active duty early to pursue an NFL career. I played defense on the practice squad that season and again the next season. And this year, I made the team as an offensive guard, and was promoted to captain in the Guard in May.

Most Guardsmen serve one weekend a month (about 24 full days a year). Instead, I do about 48 days straight after the season is over. And I obviously do my drill weekends during the offseason. It’s one of those things where they say, if you enjoy what you do, then it’s not really work. I love each opportunity. I get to go to work with great people at both organizations.

The people I work with at Buckley are unbelievable. And then I come here and get to work with the best of the best at the Denver Broncos organization. I couldn’t be happier with the people I work with, and I think that’s what really makes working hard so much fun.

I spend most of my offseason going from the base to Broncos workouts. It’s really fun. They are two very different dynamics, and then at the same time, they are both very similar. In both places, you have to train your body, train your mind, be prepared for the task at hand. It takes a lot of time, effort and a very cohesive unit and teamwork in order to complete the task. The NFL and the U.S. Air Force are both elite teams striving to be the best in the world.

I’ve already finished my commitment with the Air Force, so I could leave at any time, but I love the opportunity to put on that uniform. As long as it continues to work out where I could do both schedules that allow me to serve my country and give my full commitment to the Broncos, then I am happy to do both.

I love the focus that the NFL puts on Veteran’s Day and the military in general. That’s why I’m proud to be part of the NFL and wear that shield. I’m so excited that the NFL is supporting the military in that fashion and really honoring our vets because the things that our veterans have to go through when they are overseas and away from their families to protect our freedom…we really owe it to them.

The Broncos make it a huge priority too. We oftentimes go and visit the local bases around the community. We have an honorary hero at every single game. And then we have the Salute to Service game, where we really try to emphasize it. Any opportunity the team gets, they really try to shine a light on and help the military. Even Coach Fox brings in a military speaker each year to talk to the team because there are so many similarities between the military and football, and things we can gain from each other.

It’s a huge honor to be nominated for the Salute to Service Award. I absolutely love the military, and I absolutely love what the NFL is doing to support it. Any time I can help out the military, I’m more than happy to. And I also try to do the little things, like saying hello to our Air Force Flag Team at our games and thanking them for their service. And when I’m working at the base, I give back as well.

It’s all a dream come true. I grew up here in Colorado, watching John Elway win Super Bowl XXXII and XXXIII. I wore my Broncos T-shirts almost every day to school. And at the same time, I had the opportunity to go see an air show and visit my Grandfather who was a Colonel in the Air Force. So to be able to now be in those shoes and be a Denver Bronco and actually put on a military uniform and serve as a an officer…I’m very proud to do both. 

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Written by: Jeff Locke

How Growing Up In A Military Community Impacted Me

November 06, 2014
My family at my Dad's Air Force retirement in 1999. I'm the one in the middle!

The main reason I’m so supportive of the military is from the experience I had as a kid in that community. My Father was an Air Force pilot for 21 years, and my Grandfather served in the Air Force during the Korean War and in the Army during World War II.

Really, all of the people I looked up to growing up were my parents and their friends, and they were all part of the military community. The kids that I played with were also military brats. We all shared that same lifestyle, which was the lifestyle most familiar to me. All of the Christmas xxparties and almost everyone we hung around with were, in some way, connected to my Dad and the military.

I loved it. I can’t tell you how many times I dressed up as an Air Force pilot for Halloween as a kid! I think it really did shape me and who I am today. I see myself as being very disciplined, which is definitely something my Father and Grandfather preached to me growing up.

And the discipline I learned definitely carried over into football, especially in college, in terms of managing time, getting to meetings on time, understanding how to conduct myself around other people…it all translated. I remember having to be extremely proper with some of my Dad’s friends and other family growing up, and a lot of that came from the way he interacted with other people in the military.

I learned firsthand what the meaning of working hard really is. I saw the hours my Dad put in – from the flight simulators to time he spent at work and overseas. To see the dedication that he had, how he dedicated himself to his craft…it’s kind of the same thing I have to do on the football field.

There’s also a military connection on the Vikings, which is very cool. Our special teams coach Mike Priefer is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, and he flew helicopters as an officer in the Navy for six years. It’s definitely one of the ways Coach and I connected during the whole combine process. It’s something that we do share and can talk about. My Dad was an airplane pilot and he was a helicopter pilot, so when my Dad sees him, they get a kick out of jabbing each other about it.

My Dad really loves to see the work I do with the military community. Last year, when I made the donation to the Minneapolis VA Medical Center for Veterans Day, he got countless e-mails from his military buddies saying how great they thought it was. It meant a lot to me that a lot of the guys I looked up to growing up saw that I was able to do that.

In the offseason this past year, I helped raise money for the fundraiser called “The Longest Day of Golf for the Troops” to support wounded and disabled veterans and their families. It was a great cause. I love golf, and I love doing anything I can to support the troops. So we played a whole lot of golf and raised a very, very good amount of money. In college, I also set up a big visit to the Veterans Association in Los Angeles. We sent a bunch of football players over to help serve them a meal and sign some autographs, so that was also a great thing.

I do plan on visiting the VA near here for Veterans Day with some of my teammates. Some of the other guys have or had family in the military too, so we are going to go over there and visit with some of the veterans. I hope to expand on visits like this in the future. And during Salute to Service, we all get a choice of what branch of the military we want to support. I was very quick to point out that the Air Force would be the one on my helmet.

Meeting with veterans at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center.

It’s a great honor, it really is, to be nominated for the Salute to Service Award. For what the people in the military do, for what these people have sacrificed for us…I really don’t think I can do enough to try and give back to them. Especially with how much influence my Grandfather and my Dad had on me growing up as a child and helping me get to where I am today…it’s definitely a priority for me to do whatever I can for this community.

I am always very thankful for what our servicemen and women have done for our country and for keeping us safe, but Veterans Day does have extra meaning, especially when you have a family member who served.

It feels great to be part of the NFL and what they do. On top of all they do for the fight against breast cancer, to also have initiatives like this to support the military…it’s just awesome. To have this platform from the NFL really means a lot to myself and my family…and I know it means a lot to the members of the military and veterans around the country.

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Written by: Nick Hardwick

My Work With The Military: A Natural Fit

November 05, 2014

To me, Veteran’s Day is a time to give thanks to all of the men and women who have served, sacrificed and given up so much (their families included) so that we can, in return, have so much stateside. We’ve been given incredible liberties and freedoms and a lifestyle that can only be attained through sacrifice…and the veterans have certainly sacrificed a lot and allowed us to have these fantastic lives we live over here.

San Diego is a military hotbed. We are surrounded by military bases, and everywhere you go, you run into Marines, Navy men and women, and the occasional Army and Air Force folks. It’s that type of community; it’s very military driven. Those are big supporters of ours, and our community supports them right back. We love having them here.

I’m really proud of the work I do with the Marine Corps-Law Enforcement Foundation. When a serviceman or woman dies in the line of duty, the Foundation immediately gives their child a fully funded 529 plan at $30,000. That takes a lot of fundraising efforts and does a nice job of taking care of itself.

But the thing I’m most proud of is the amount of time we spend outside of fundraising, providing more value-added services to the families and to the surviving spouse. Through California State University San Marcos, we secure basically free tuition for the surviving family member so they don’t have to use their GI money on college or books. There are extended education and adult learning classes there, all free to the family members. We’ve also done the same thing with Brandman University, which is a private institution, and they are offering half off their courses to surviving family members. We are trying to help extend their benefits and make their government benefits go a little bit further. It took a lot of time, a lot of meetings and a lot of phone calls to get the local universities involved, but we were able to accomplish that and hope to do more of this.

Getting nominated for the Salute to Service Award is a nice recognition. You don’t do charitable work in public to get recognized for it. I think you find your passion, you find what makes you go and what gets you fired up. And for me, I was a Marine Corps ROTC student at Purdue University before I walked onto the football team. That has always been a passion of mine.

And my second cousin, who was at the time the most successful member of our entire family (everyone always talked about cousin Joey!), was a fighter pilot for the Air Force and he went on to fly for FedEx. I thought that to be successful, you had to go to the military. I was modeling my cousin, the most successful member of our family, and I wanted to be successful. To me, that was the only way that I knew. It just so happens that I could play football. But before that, I had completely planned and committed to joining the military and serving our country.

So for me, it’s a great way to give back to something I cared so deeply about before I became a football player. It was a naturally flowing, of course I’ll do that, kind of fit. It only made sense to me. The causes that we are supporting as players are a lot bigger than football. Football gives us a fantastic platform to be able to do good in the community, and there are tons of guys across the league that are doing great things in their communities and are supporting the communities that lift them up and put them on pedestals. They are giving back in very positive ways. To me, it’s a really great opportunity to make a difference in the lives of people who are sacrificing so much so you can play a child’s game as a grown man.

Playing with the Chargers has given me a name in the community and allowed me to build my own personal brand here. I think people in this city know who I am and what I stand for. What a blessing and an incredible privilege in my life to play for this team. They are incredibly supportive. The team out here has been so close-knit and so supportive of each other. Any time one of the guys has an initiative they care about, the other guys show up and help out…that’s your teammate, that’s what you’re supposed to do as a good team member. You’re supposed to support your brother.

I don’t want to be done with this work when my football career is finished. The more we can do to acknowledge the men and women and their families who are serving this country and sacrificing so much so that we can have so much, the better off this place is going to be. We all need to realize that freedom isn’t free. And we need to be thankful and appreciate and really just acknowledge that these folks are out there giving up a lot so we can have so much.

There are times when these folks are hit awfully hard by the death of a family member and tragic events that happen. For me, to be part of something that’s there to help shine a bright light and give hope and let the families know that we’re here and we care and are supportive and thankful…it’s something I really want to do more of. We can’t give back what was lost, but we can provide hope and inspiration that the future is going to be okay. 

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Written by: Arthur Moats

Life Lessons & More From The Son Of A Marine

November 03, 2014
My Dad in 1988, the year I was born

It means a lot to me that the NFL helps us honor the military for the simple fact that those are the people who are risking their lives to make sure that we have the freedoms and ability to play this game in America. Anytime we can salute them and let them know that we appreciate all that they do…it’s a huge, huge thing that we should be part of.

Some people take our freedom for granted. But I know firsthand, having a father who was in the Marines, how big of an effect it can have on you. He served from 1977 to 1990 and was stationed at Camp Lejeune. When I was growing up, he was transitioning out of the Marines. I was getting older, my sister was getting older, and he wanted to have us settled down and comfortable in one place. But I know from talking with him that the biggest stressor was the constant movement. Every two to four years he was on the move.

The main thing I took from growing up the son of a Marine was the discipline side of it. He instilled the discipline and the core vales of the Marines in my siblings and me when we were growing up. It constantly carried over, even in the way we kept our rooms clean and our desks at school clean. He was big on keeping everything neat. He taught us how to fold our bed so that the sheets were tight enough that you could flip a coin on it. It was actually pretty cool. From a physical standpoint, it was funny at times because we would have push-up contests until my arms felt like they were about to fall off. Oh man, I would beat my little sister and brother, but my dad would get me!

I’ve carried the discipline and attention to detail aspect with me throughout my NFL career. When you are playing on Sunday, you have to have the discipline to, first, make sure you are following the rules, and then to execute the scheme the way the coaches want it. The fine details…instead of just running here, you have to step right first, then go there. All of the things like that are part of my character traits that were passed down from my father.

My Dad stationed at Cherry Point. He's sixth from the left in the top row

He was always telling me to make sure that I was one of the hardest workers out there. It’s a mentality of, no matter how bad the situation is, you have to know that you are going to come out of it. He’s told me about some of his experiences as a Marine, some situations that you get put into and it doesn’t look too good. But you have to have that mentality that no matter what the situation is, you are going to come out of it positively. In games, when it isn’t looking too good for us, I try to maintain the mentality that no matter what the score is, no matter how much time is on the clock, we are going to find a way to come out of this.

I try to instill that in my children as well. I have two daughters (ages 8 and 2 years old), and from a discipline standpoint, there are a lot of similarities in how I parent. For example, I tell my daughter that if you get into the mindset of coming home and doing your homework to the best of your abilities the first time, you will have a lot more success. She understands that concept.

The mental toughness side of it is for my daughter to understand that when she does mess up in school, she can bounce back from it. That it’s not the end of the world. You are going to always have obstacles in my life, but you have to have the mindset to say, it’s okay, I’ll get it right the next time.

I’m really glad I’ve had the opportunity to interact with the military. Earlier this season, about 15 of my teammates and I welcomed veterans from various areas of service as part of the Steelers’ Heroes event. The biggest part of it for me was letting them know that we appreciate them and being able to thank them directly. It was cool to hear some of the stories they told us. Some of them had amazing stories about getting injured and having to persevere. It was very motivating to hear and very moving to us. And then to see how excited they got to meet us and hear some of our stories…it was very cool.

I usually tell people about my connection to the military if it comes up, but I don’t go out and boast or brag about it. After a game a few weeks ago, I met a guy who was in the Air Force. In addition to my father being in the Marines, I had an uncle in the Air Force and a younger cousin in the Air Force, so I shared with him about my connection to the military.

I’ve done a lot of work with the military through the United Way and the NFL, but I definitely want to become more involved because of the simple fact that I have strong ties to and a history with the military. Going forward, I plan to get a lot more involved. 

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