The NFL and USAA, an Official NFL Salute to Service Partner, have announced the 32 nominees for the ninth annual Salute to Service Award presented by USAA. The Salute to Service Award annually recognises NFL players, coaches, personnel and Legends who demonstrate an exemplary commitment to honouring and supporting the military community, as nominated by NFL clubs.
Finalists will be announced in January, and the recipient will be recognised at NFL Honours, a two-hour primetime awards special to air 1 February, 2019 the night before Super Bowl LIV.
“The 2019 ‘Salute to Service Award presented by USAA’ nominees truly deserve this moment of recognition for their strong commitment to honour and recognise our military members, veterans, and their families,”
Said Vice Admiral (Ret.) JOHN BIRD, USAA Senior Vice President of Military Affairs. “From visiting service members on base at home and abroad, volunteering with veterans service organizations, and helping with veteran hiring programs, this year’s nominees are true examples of how players, coaches, and fans can, through meaningful action, show their deep appreciation for the military community.”
Current San Francisco 49er and former Atlanta Falcons guard BEN GARLAND was last year’s award recipient. Garland will serve on the award panel and vote to select the 2019 Salute to Service Award recipient.
As the presenting sponsor of the Salute to Service Award, USAA, a leading provider of insurance and other services to U.S. military members, veterans and their families, will contribute $25,000 in the recipient’s name to the official aid societies representing all five military branches. The NFL will match USAA’s contribution of $25,000, which will be donated to the award recipient’s military charity of choice.
The Salute to Service Award is part of the NFL and USAA’s year-round commitment to recognize and honour the military community. Each year, the NFL and its 32 teams come together to honour, empower and connect with members of the military as part of the NFL’s Salute to Service. The League’s year-round military appreciation efforts culminate in November with NFL Salute to Service games and other special events honouring and thanking veterans, active duty service members and their families.
Since 2011, USAA has used its sponsorship to honour and appreciate active-duty military, veterans and their families by creating unique opportunities that bring the military community and the NFL closer together. Among numerous events this season, USAA hosted “NFL Boot Camps” during training camp with multiple teams and at military installations at home and abroad, where military members competed in drills similar to those used at the NFL Combine, Super Bowl ticket giveaways for military veterans and offering military members the chance to meet NFL players in small groups. Fans can join the NFL and USAA in honouring the military community by visiting NFL.com/Salute.
Below is a list of the 2019 Salute to Service Award presented by USAA nominees:
Arizona Cardinals DENNIS GARDECK (Linebacker)
Dennis Gardeck grew up in the Chicago area and earned all-conference honoors as a defenseman in lacrosse in addition to playing for the football team. He went on to star at West Virginia State before transferring to Sioux Falls as a graduate transfer in 2017. As a senior, he was named to five Division II All-America teams, selected as a finalist for the Cliff Harris Award (Small College Defensive Player of the Year) and earned first-team All-NSIC and NSIC Defensive Newcomer of the Year honoors. Since joining the Arizona Cardinals as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2018, Gradeck has played 22 games and totalled 14 special teams tackles. During his time in Arizona, linebacker Dennis Gardeck has rarely missed an opportunity to participate in community service events such as school trips, kids camps and hospital visits. One cause particularly important to him, however, is giving back to military veterans, an initiative the second-year Cardinal supports with the same passion he brings to the field. “I see a lot of similarities between football and the service – the comradery, intensity and brotherhood” Gardeck said. “We have the freedom to play a game we love because of the sacrifices made by the brave men and women who have served, and it’s important to show our veterans that we care about them and appreciate all they’ve done.”
Gardeck recently participated in “Operation Sleep,” a military appreciation event hosted by Cardinals Charities and Brooklyn Bedding at MANA (Marines, Army, Navy and Air Force) House in Phoenix. He and team representatives delivered 76 beds to the residents of MANA House, which is a peer-support organization that helps rebuild the lives of military veterans affected by homelessness. “When the Cardinals come in, the attitude of the men really just changes,” said Wendy Owens, Charities Manager at MANA House. “Their eyes just light up. It brings out a softer side of them.” Gardeck will return to MANA House during the Cardinals bye week in late November to spend time with the residents during a canvas painting event. While staying at MANA House, veterans build savings with the goal of moving out on their own, and the paintings they create with Gardeck will help furnish their new home.
Atlanta Falcons STEVE CANNON (Chief Executive Officer)
Steve Cannon, CEO of Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur M. Blank’s family of businesses, is the personification of what the NFL’s Salute to Service Award was created to honour. His passion and drive to provide America’s military community meaningful recognition, unique engagement opportunities and enduring support they may not otherwise have is constant and central to his leadership ethic. Cannon’s commitment to the military and related causes began with his own personal commitment. Cannon, who graduated with honours from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1986, was Airborne Ranger qualified and served as First Lieutenant in West Germany during the fall of the Iron Curtain. During his time in the Army he also served five years as an artillery officer. Through Cannon’s countless hours of service to multiple military non-profits over the years, his constant “military first” mindset and utilization of the NFL’s platform has provided active duty service members, veterans and military families with first-class experiences and support.
In addition to empowering and giving back to the military community, Cannon has played a large role in bringing awareness to the general population on the importance of honouring and recognizing our Nation’s Heroes. Through Cannon’s military and professional career, he has consistently found ways to implement programs in service to our military, active duty specifically. Upon his entrance into the Atlanta Falcons organization, he realized the impact of the NFL platform and challenged the Club to be “best in class” and to “become the benchmark franchise in all of professional sports” in terms of the Falcons military outreach and appreciation. The Atlanta Falcons became the first ever NFL team to conduct their own USO Tour. Another challenge that Cannon put on the team was to make every single Atlanta Falcons home game a Salute to Service game; and to not just celebrate our current service members and veterans once in November. Additionally, the Falcons host and honour through video tribute, a family from the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) at every single home game. The Falcons have raised more than $250,000 to help homeless veterans across the state of Georgia.
On Jan. 1, 2014, Cannon’s life was changed forever when his brother, also a West Point graduate, took his own life due to post traumatic stress disorder. Cannon, through his heartbreak, also found a light. Seeing what his family was going through, he wanted to make sure that any other family that experiences the unbearable pain of losing a loved one, feels cared for, is nurtured and has opportunities in their time of most need. Cannon serves on the Board of Directors of three organizations whose values are built around providing opportunities for military and their families. Since 2014, he has served on the Board of Directors for Johnny Mac Soldiers Fund and Children of Fallen Patriots; while also serving on the TAPS Board of Directors since 2017. Cannon co-founded the Johnny Mac Soldiers Fund in 2014, a nonprofit organization that honours military service and sacrifice by providing scholarships and educational programs to veterans and military family members, especially to children of our nation’s fallen or disabled. Since 2014, Johnny Mac Soldiers Fund has helped over 1,500 military children with scholarships totalling $12 million; the Fund will award an additional $4 million+ in scholarships in 2019. A member of the Johnny Mac Soldiers Fund Executive Committee and Board of Directors, Cannon has been instrumental in their fundraising efforts. They have raised $20 million since 2014.
Cannon always has the United States military on the forefront of what we do, and their families, and the Atlanta Falcons are honoured to have a such a special leader push the organization to excellence and make sure they take care of those who fight for our freedom every day. “There is a debt we owe to those who make the ultimate sacrifice and we will pay that debt by taking care of the families left behind,” says Cannon.
Baltimore Ravens JOHN HARBAUGH (Head Coach)
Throughout his 12-year tenure as head coach of the Baltimore Ravens, John Harbaugh has displayed an unwavering commitment to the military. By consistently honouring those who have fought valiantly defending freedom, to establishing unique displays of appreciation for those who serve today, Harbaugh’s support for America’s service members is unparalleled in the NFL community. Even after winning the 2013 Salute to Service Award, Harbaugh has continued to create a culture throughout the Ravens organization that stresses reverence and gratitude for the military. Last season, Harbaugh assisted in launching a long-term relationship between the Ravens and the USS Maryland (SSBN 738) – a United States Navy Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine stationed in Kings Bay, GA.
Another example of his commitment to the military occurred near the end of the 2017 training camp, when Harbaugh surprised the entire team by cancelling practice and loading everyone on busses to visit The Pentagon and Arlington National Cemetery. The trip was an opportunity for players, coaches and staff to receive a behind-the-scenes tour of the historic locations and show appreciation for what each represents. Earlier that summer, Harbaugh once again arranged for a trip to the battlefields of Gettysburg, where many Ravens learned about the Civil War’s impact on America and the sacrifices made by thousands of soldiers. Harbaugh has also visited numerous military installations, including bases in the Persian Gulf as part of the inaugural NFL USO Coaches Tour (2009), the Naval Special Warfare Center in Coronado, California, (2011), Andrews Air Force Base – and locations in Turkey and Afghanistan with Army Chief of Staff General Raymond Odierno (2014). In 2012, General Odierno – who has spoken to the Ravens on multiple occasions, presented Harbaugh with the Outstanding Civilian Service Award.
Harbaugh is well-known for regularly having service members attend practice and inviting wounded warriors as his guests to each Ravens home game. He has spent significant time and funds to send holiday care packages to service members overseas, and he has purchased school supplies for children whose parents serve in the military. Not only do military members frequently come to practice or visit the field during pre-game warm-ups at M&T Bank Stadium, but on a daily basis, Harbaugh connects with service members through e-mails, phone calls and personal letters. In 2008, Harbaugh also helped institute Military Appreciation Day, an annual event that has taken place for 12-consecutive years during Ravens training camp. Since its establishment, over 10,000 service members have enjoyed opportunities to meet players and coaches, including during practices held at the Naval Academy’s Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. Day after day, year after year, John Harbaugh exemplifies military appreciation with genuine passion and consistency.
Buffalo Bills CHAD HALL (Wide Receivers Coach)
Throughout his career, Chad Hall has held many titles – including a Second Lieutenant in the United States Air Force, NFL wide receiver, and most recently Buffalo Bills Wide Receivers coach. After graduating high school, Hall was rewarded an appointment to attend the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, CO, where his military career began. After serving four years at the Air Force Academy, Hall graduated and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Air Force. He was stationed in Hill Air Force Base, Utah, for two years where he became an Aircraft Maintenance Officer in the 421st Aircraft Maintenance Unit.
In this role, Hall led over 300 troops and maintained F-16 Fighting Falcons. Throughout his service, he still had one goal – to play in the NFL. He put his country and job first, but during his free time, he trained in pursuit of his dream. The military instilled discipline and a set of values that Hall carried in to his on-field performance as a wide receiver for the Eagles, 49ers and Chiefs. During his NFL playing career, Hall assisted at the Air Force recruiting office and shaved his head to raise money for the Wounded Warriors Foundation. Before his final year of playing, Hall founded “Pigskin Patriots,” a non-profit organization that holds free football and cheerleading camps on military bases around the United States for children of military families. The goal of the organization is to build the character of tomorrow’s future leaders while creating a day they will remember forever.
Carolina Panthers RON RIVERA (Head Coach)
Carolina Panthers Head Coach Ron Rivera was born into the military. His father was drafted into the Army in 1952 and retired after two tours of duty in Vietnam and 32 years of service. His parents met at a USO event and raised their four children on military bases around the globe. Throughout his life, his exposure to the military has shaped the values and ideals he brings to the coaching profession and in his service to the community. It is a commitment Ron shares with his wife, Stephanie, whose father served as a Navy submarine driver and grandfather served on a submarine in World War II. During his tenure as head coach of the Panthers, Rivera has embraced the large military contingent in the Carolinas. He makes anticipated annual visits to the region’s military bases including Ft. Bragg and Camp Lejeune to spend time with troops, wounded warriors and Special Operations Forces, but his personal engagement with Armed Forces members is a particular passion.
Outside of football, Ron and Stephanie serve as USO of North Carolina and Veterans Bridge Home ambassadors donating both their time and financial resources to support organizational events and active duty troops. Former USO of North Carolina President/ CEO and retired Lieutenant Colonel John Falkenbury said this of Rivera: “While the Carolina Panthers are the ‘Gold Standard’ for supporting our military and their families, it is Coach Rivera who sets the tone and leads by an example that permeates through the entire team and management. Throughout the year, Coach Rivera and his wife, Stephanie, dedicates personal and team time to honour our military by inviting and meeting with them at training camp, Military Furlough Weekends during the season, or travelling to area military bases on his own time to quietly meet with our Warriors and their families. When a Special Forces Soldier was tragically killed in action, leaving a wife and several children behind, Coach Rivera stepped up personally to support the family. Coach Rivera, the son of an Army Warrant Officer, knows first-hand the challenges our military men and women, as well as their families face on a daily basis. His commitment to them is unswerving, passionate and uplifting. Through his words and deeds, he makes a profound difference to the less than one percent of the nation protecting the freedoms of the other 99 percent.”
Chicago Bears – PATRICK SCALES (Long Snapper)
This past off-season Patrick visited with Navy officers and senior enlisted sailors for a leadership session onboard Recruit Training Command at the Naval Station at Great Lakes in Great Lakes, Illinois. Patrick participated in an interview Q&A style which was moderated by their Command Master Chief, David Twiford. The purpose was for the audience to learn about Patrick’s thoughts on leadership and how he achieved success in his career. The visit was as rewarding from Patrick as it was for the sailors who participated in the day.
As the Chicago Bears host military and first responder groups at Halas Hall to watch practice, Patrick is one of the first players to greet them and spend time with them. Patrick’s warm personality and sense of humour makes guests feel at home and welcomed by the team. Patrick has also committed to supporting the Bears upcoming Salute to Service programs and events such as taking veterans who are part of the Wounded Warrior program “golfing” at Top Golf, among other events leading up to numerous events that engage with the military community.
Cincinnati Bengals – JEMAL SINGLETON (Running Backs Coach)
Jemal Singleton, the son of an Air Force Sergeant, followed in his father’s footsteps when he began his military career at the Air Force Academy. Singleton’s leadership as a player was evident when he became one of only six players in program history to be elected a two-time captain. In 2001, Singleton was stationed at Little Rock Air Force Base in Jacksonville, Arkansas, where he served as the Chief of Media Relations. During that time, he deployed to Tbilisi, Georgia in support of the Georgia Train and Equip Program (GTEP).
The program was an American-sponsored 18-month, $64-million program aimed at increasing the capabilities of the Georgian armed forces by training and equipping four 600-man battalions with light weapons, vehicles and communications. In 2003, he returned to the Air Force Academy to serve as the Executive Officer for former Director of Athletics, Ret. Col. Randy Spetman. He later became part of the Air Force Football coaching staff. Singleton’s coaching career has taken him to multiple cities since leaving the Air Force Academy, but his commitment to the military has not waivered. He is focused on raising awareness for the needs of veterans and supporting military efforts in the community. He has been involved with multiple military organizations including the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) and Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing (PHWFF).
Cleveland Browns – JOHN DORSEY (General Manager)
Valued lessons from his military upbringing have helped shape John Dorsey’s work both on and off the field. “It probably comes from the work ethic my father instilled in me at a very young age,” he said. “I like to wake up every morning and see if I can make a contribution.” John attended Leonard Hall Junior Military Academy in Leonardtown, Maryland for grades five through eight. In 1980, he prepared for his NFL journey at Fork Union Military Academy, a nationally recognized school in Central Virginia. In 2016, John’s accomplishments bestowed his induction in the Fork Union Military Academy Hall of Fame. He was inspired by the school’s value of integrity and the belief that “We mean what we say, say what we mean.” John has been active in making a difference in the community both as a player and as an executive. Particularly, he is committed to supporting and honouring those who serve and have sacrificed for our country. He led a special project to honour family members of Browns staff who have served or are actively serving in the military. Additionally, each year John and the Browns welcome nearly 175 guests from active military and their immediate families (invited through the USO of Northern Ohio), local veterans and Gold Star families to Training Camp. All guests enjoy practice as well as a special meet and greet with the players, coaches and members of the Browns front office. He has always been incredibly welcoming of military guests, whether it’s World War II veterans or active members, who visit the facility, practice and games. John takes the time to get to know members and their families and ensure they are honoured as special guests of the Cleveland Browns. Nothing flashy, but hard work, grit, determination, honor and respect. These are principles inspired by service members that have shaped John’s leadership to positively impact the organization’s culture and what it means to be a Cleveland Brown.
Dallas Cowboys – ROGER STAUBACH (Former Quarterback)
Roger Staubach led the Dallas Cowboys to six NFC Championship Games, four Super Bowls and two Super Bowl titles. A great clutch performer, Staubach earned the name “Captain Comeback” for leading the Cowboys to 23 comeback victories – 14 of those in the last two minutes or overtime. A five-time Pro Bowler, Staubach was drafted by Dallas in 1964 after winning the Heisman Trophy and Maxwell Award at the Naval Academy. Staubach was inducted into the Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor in 1983 and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985. Staubach’s grace under fire on the football field was earned through service to the United States Navy. A 1965 graduate of the United States Naval Academy with a Bachelor of Science in Engineering, Staubach served four years as a Navy officer – one of those years spent in Vietnam as a Supply Corps officer, commanding 41 men. Staubach joined the Dallas Cowboys in 1969. His 11-year career solidified his legacy in Dallas Cowboys and NFL history. A national NFL Man of the Year, Staubach’s off-the-field passion for philanthropy has touched military causes, children’s cancer, women’s shelters and more.
Throughout his playing and professional career, Staubach has worked behind the scenes to support active duty military members, veterans and their families, in addition to mainstream philanthropy causes. He has worked closely with the United States Naval Academy Foundation, USAA, USO, Children’s Cancer Fund, American Cancer Society and others. Staubach started the nonprofit Allies in Service to support service members, veterans and their spouses with employment assistance. Through connecting veterans to essential resources, mentoring and follow-up, building public awareness and encouraging community collaboration, Allies in Service serves veterans, just as they have served the country.
Allies in Service works to support the more than 350,000 veterans living in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex (110,000 of those veterans in Dallas County) to ensure a successful transition – allowing them to lead a life of success after service. The services provided by Allies in Service are free to veterans, their spouses, and our community partners. The nonprofit partners with individuals, employers, community and other veteran support organizations to educate and enhance the quality of life of veterans. Under Staubach’s leadership, Allies in Service offers assistance with resume writing, mock interviews, career coaching, career leads and referrals, mentorship, education, housing and healthcare. All programs strive to help translate the military and civilian experience, so employers can see the transferable skills. Among the many honors bestowed upon Roger are Commercial Property News’ “Corporate Services Executive of the Year” (four times), the 2006 Congressional Medal of Honor “Patriot Award,” the NCAA “Teddy Roosevelt Award” for being one of the “100 Most Influential NCAA Student-Athletes,” the American Jewish Congress “Torch of Conscience Award,” and the United States Naval Academy “Distinguished Graduate.”
Denver Broncos – BRANDON STOKLEY (Former Wide Receiver)
Brandon Stokley is a former NFL wide receiver who played a total of 15 seasons, most notably with the Denver Broncos, Indianapolis Colts, and Baltimore Ravens. Stokley continues to be a role model for current Denver Broncos players, and consistently sets an example of commitment to the military community and programming. Continuing a tradition that inspired him throughout his career, Brandon annually hosts retired and wounded military veterans as VIP guests during Denver Broncos training camp practices. “When I played [having service members at practice] was always the highlight of training camp,” Stokley said, as told to in 2019. “After practice you had the veterans out there and you got to thank them for their service, and it reminded you of what’s really important. You’re going through training camp and you’re in the grind, and it just helps you take a step back and reflect and just appreciate everything else that’s going on and put things in perspective for you.”
By working with a variety of organizations throughout this five-year tradition, Stokley has solidified himself as a dedicated volunteer and supporter of the military community. He has worked with Operation Warrior Wishes, Freedom Service Dogs, and Unstoppable Heroes, each time inviting retired and wounded veterans for an up close and personal view of practice and the ability to meet with current players after practice. Brandon’s grandfather was an Army veteran and fought in the Vietnam War. To Stokley, Salute to Service means to “pay respect and honour the men and women who have sacrificed for our freedom.”
Detroit Lions – MATT PATRICIA (Head Coach)
Currently in his 16th season as an NFL coach and second as the head coach of the Lions, Patricia’s support of the United States Armed Forces dates back to his days as an aeronautical engineering major at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where his “first love” was airplanes. With several close friends currently serving in the military, specifically the Navy, Patricia grows his beard every season to honour his loved ones overseas – most of whom typically sport full beards. “I’m not shaving until you get back. When you see us on TV, or see me on TV, you’ll know I’ll be thinking about you,” Patricia said during his press conference at Super Bowl LII. In 2018, his first year as head coach, the Lions partnered with the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS). Through Patricia’s work with Lions players on the launch of the team’s social justice initiative, Detroit Lions Inspire Change, the Lions became the first NFL team to fund scholarship opportunities for TAPS families.
During the team’s Salute to Service game against the Carolina Panthers last season, Patricia hosted Michigan-based TAPS families and, alongside several players, honored the families’ lost loved ones with personalized buttons and helmet decals on game day. Lions players also conducted a ticket drive that invited hundreds of military members to the Panthers game. This year, Patricia and the Lions plan to honour 25 TAPS families when Detroit takes on the Dallas Cowboys on Nov. 17. As part of his first My Cause My Cleats initiative as an NFL head coach, Patricia showcased the Word of Honor Fund, which provides a continuum of support that facilitates milestone events for the surviving children of Navy SEALs and Special Operations personnel who lost their lives while assigned to select Naval Special Operations Groups. Last June, he donated 325 backpacks to the organization’s Annual Summertime Gathering in Willow Creek, Idaho. Over the last two years, Patricia and the Lions have hosted and helped fund the Drug Enforcement Agency’s Maltz Challenge, an annual worldwide cross-fit event held in memory of DEA Special Agent and United States Airforce Pararescueman Mike Maltz that honours service men and women lost in the line of duty.
This past March, more than 150 participants gathered at the team’s Allen Park practice facility to compete in the event, where Patricia greeted participants and helped organize a gift presentation to the family of Private First Class Tarryl Hill, a Southfield, Michigan native who died while serving in the Iraq War. Patricia’s commitment to supporting the service men and women of our country is also rooted in a passion for preserving and honouring American history. In June 2018, Patricia led a private trip of the entire team and coaching staff to Arlington National Cemetery, where the team together remembered fallen heroes before embarking on the upcoming season. During this trip, Patricia and the team’s player leadership council also visited Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. This past August, while participating in joint training camp practices with the Houston Texans, Patricia also coordinated a team trip to the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, NASA’s headquarters for human spaceflight training. Lions players and staff were given an exclusive opportunity to hear NASA astronaut and United States Navy SEAL Chris Cassidy present on his distinguished career path, as well as the many parallels between the training regimens of professional football players and astronauts. Throughout the football season, Patricia consistently hosts military friends at both home and road games and also allows them to take part in team meetings and view practice. Over the last two seasons, he has also brought in retired Three-Star United States Navy Admiral John “Boomer” Stufflebeem, to speak to the team on topics ranging from media training to culture building. A former Lions punter and close friend of Patricia, Stufflebeem served 39 years in the Navy and is well-known for his role as the primary media liaison for the Pentagon following the attacks of September 11, 2001.
Green Bay Packers – DANNY VITALE (Fullback)
If you were to ask any of Danny’s teammates and friends to describe him in one word, often they would respond with “patriotic.” Danny Vitale embodies what it means to support one’s country and its United States Armed Forces through his constant support and patriotism. Danny is involved with numerous organizations and their efforts to support the military on and off the battlefield. This past Memorial Day, Danny completed his fourth Murph Challenge. Every Memorial Day, the Murph Challenge honours former Navy Seal Lieutenant Michael P. Murphy, who was killed during Operation Red Wings, in 2005. The challenge requires participants to run one mile, perform 100 pull ups, 200 pushups, 300 squats, and then run an additional mile, all while wearing a 20-pound weighted vest. Through Danny’s support, and the support of many others, over $1 million through The Murph Challenge for the Lieutenant Michael P. Murphy Memorial Scholarship Foundation. Danny’s appreciation for the military has also been inspired by the service of one of his best friends, Tom Hruby. Tom was a teammate of Danny’s at Northwestern and also served as a Navy SEAL. Tom helped introduce Danny to Taya Kyle, the widow of the highly decorated former Navy SEAL, Chris Kyle. Following her husband’s death, Taya Kyle started the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation which helps veterans to reconnect with their family and readjust to civilian life when they return home from military duty. Vitale honoured the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation with his “My Cause, My Cleats” campaign in 2017.
Danny often uses his platform to promote the organization and share their amazing efforts and hopes to continue honouring the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation. Last year, Danny and three teammates took a Blackhawk helicopter to the Wisconsin Challenge Academy to spend the day with cadets at Fort McCoy. The Challenge Academy is a program that helps at-risk youth, ages 16-18, by reshaping their lives through a structured military environment to help them get their life back on track. Danny and his teammates ate lunch with the cadets, took a tour of the barracks and held a Q&A session to help inspire and motivate them to become better members of society. This fall, Danny and six teammates served as honorary captains for the Packers’ first “Huddle for Heroes.” This military event hosted 56 Wisconsin veterans for an afternoon of personal interaction with the players and interactive sports games. As part of the event, players and veterans all wrote a letter to an active duty military serviceman or woman to offer encouragement and gratitude for all that they are doing for our country overseas. Danny Vitale constantly represents what it means to support the military. Often on his social media posts, he describes his visits to memorials and military sites, and honours those who have fought for our country. He never takes for granted the rights and freedoms our military fights to defend each day, and his nomination for this prestigious award has only motivated him further to be a tireless advocate for the military and veterans.
Houston Texans – JON WEEKS (Long Snapper)
Houston Texans long snapper Jon Weeks proudly recalls his days growing up as a “military brat.” Jon comes from a long line of service members starting with his grandfather who served in the Army in both World War II and the Korean War. Jon’s dad served in the Air Force for 15 years sacrificing time with his young family to serve his country. Jon was born in Bethpage, New York while his dad was in still the service. As his dad was returning to civilian life, the family relocated across the country to Phoenix, Arizona. Through multi-generations of military service in his family, Jon relates to service members and understands the sacrifices they make. “I know just a little bit of it, and you can never say ‘thank you’ enough.”
Jon and his wife, Amanda, have been a consistent presence at almost every military event the Texans have hosted during his 10 seasons with the team. Jon attended the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo Armed Forces Appreciation Day earlier this year. Each year, he participates in the Houston Texans Military Barbeque meeting the service members in attendance while his wife Amanda volunteers to serve food to families. Last year Jon and Amanda volunteered to serve Thanksgiving lunch to over 200 veterans at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center in Houston. Jon spoke on behalf of the players at the event, “From the bottom of our heart, thank you for everything you’ve done for us.” Jon is proud to carry on his family’s legacy of giving back to others.
Indianapolis Colts – BRIAN DECKER (Director of Player Development)
Brian Decker was born into the military in Texas and raised in Kentucky – for Brian Decker, service was in his blood. “My grandfather served in the military in the Korean War and my dad served in the military in Vietnam. There was a tradition of service in our family,” he said. “I think the military was always something that I thought about in the back of my mind.” But when Brian felt like he needed a change, he decided to join the military. “Once I got there, in a very short amount of time, I realized I had made a great decision.” Decker continued, “It was probably the first thing in my life that anyone ever told me I was good at. It’s hard to develop a passion for something until you’ve enjoyed some success. I really liked the structure. I liked the fact that it was about working hard. If you worked hard and did the right things, you could advance.” And he did – working his way up to Lieutenant Colonel of the United States Special Forces, he did two tours of duty in Iraq. He was 32 years old the first time he went. His wife was six or seven months pregnant with twins. Brian said the most difficult part of it was having to leave.
“You have a scheduled date on which you’re going to leave and you don’t know if you’ll ever come back,” he said. “You write a letter that’s hidden somewhere, and people know where it’s at so if something were to happen to you, you get to say goodbye.” Said Decker. As gruelling as it was personally professionally, it was everything he dreamed of. Brian lead a special forces team. He was getting an opportunity to lead some of the most highly trained, qualified, some of the greatest Americans that he’s ever met. During his three years as Commander of Special Forces Assessment and Selection, the program saw success – so much so that other organizations – military, business, and even sports teams wanted to hear about it. What they realized was that by focusing solely on performance, they were missing on the person. Decker consulted with professional organizations of every major sport and eventually, the Cleveland Browns brought him in to oversee their player selection process. As it turns out, the characteristics that make someone a good team member are the same – whether it’s on the battle field or the football field. “I would go a step farther and say that when you talk about the elite level of the military or any sport or most business organizations – if you take the sports specific requirements away and look at the mindset of the person – they’re all the same people.”
He continues to serve and give back by investing in veterans like himself and shining a spotlight on non-traditional ways to bring people in from the military and have them contribute in a valuable way.
Now, he’s helping players develop tools they’ll use for life – much like he did with his soldiers. I think every one of us who works here wants to be able to know that in some way, form, or fashion, we’re having an impact.” From a late bloomer to a leader of men, the military made Brian Decker the man he is today. After 22 years of service, no matter where he goes – in his heart, he’s always a soldier.
Jacksonville Jaguars – MYLES JACK (Linebacker)
This past offseason, Myles Jack embarked on a weeklong tour to South Korea with the USO as an extension of the NFL’s Salute to Service. A collaborative effort between the USO and NFL, the tour was aimed to salute and honour those who protect and defend our freedoms abroad. While in South Korea, Jack met and visited with several military units, spending time with service members and their families and in turn was given a unique, in-depth perspective to the daily life of the men and women who defend our freedom tirelessly around the clock.
While at home, Jack has participated in annual NFL Salute to Service events as part of his support for the robust military community in Jacksonville. He has attended Pros vs. GI Joe, during which the Jaguars invite 25 active duty military members from different branches to interact with players through video game challenges. Last year, Jack also went to the Stars and Strikes bowling event held at Naval Station Mayport in Jacksonville, where 200 military members and their families received free bowling time, food and giveaway items. For this year’s My Cause My Cleats Initiative, Jack will honour the USO and our military as he wears cleats dedicated to military appreciation for the brave individuals, such as the ones he met in South Korea during the offseason, who fight for and defend our safety. Jack takes great pride in honouring the military, as his great uncle, John Marshall Valrie, proudly served our county during the Vietnam War while on the USS Seattle, enlisting in the Navy at the age of 18.
Kansas City Chiefs – ANTHONY SHERMAN (Fullback)
Kansas City Chiefs fullback Anthony Sherman has been a longtime supporter of the United States Armed Forces. Sherman is currently in his seventh season with the Chiefs and has continuously proven to the Kansas City community that he is dedicated to showing appreciation and support to our service men and women across all branches of the military. Each year Anthony Sherman participates in a variety of initiatives to give back to service members. The Chiefs’ Military Appreciation Day at Training Camp is one event that Sherman participates in year to year.
Sherman loves being able to provide experiences to military members and their families and has said, “We wouldn’t be able to do what we do on Sundays if it wasn’t for the people that go out there and defend our freedom and give us the opportunity to do what we want to do.” Chiefs activations such as this have inspired Sherman to go above and beyond even after the events. In December of 2018 various Chiefs players, including Sherman, threw a holiday party for a few local Gold Star families. It was at this event that Sherman met Joyce Turner, the mother of Staff Sergeant, Shaun Mittler, of the United States Army who gave his life defending our country at the young age of 32. Sherman invited the family for an all-inclusive surprise trip to Super Bowl LII. Turner was invited back to Arrowhead for what she thought was a complimentary tour but was shocked and overwhelmed with emotion when she saw Sherman in the locker room waiting to present her and her family with this gift. Sherman also went out of his way to start a charitable initiative involving the Veterans Community Project (VCP) of Kansas City.
Sherman has helped donate funds to VCP, helping them cover the various costs of building tiny homes that are designed with the intention of getting homeless veterans off the streets. The League has also provided Sherman with platforms to show his military support. Through the NFL’s “My Cause, My Cleats” campaign, Sherman was able to bring awareness to the Lone Survivor Foundation during the 2018 season. Anthony Sherman has made himself known to be an avid ambassador of the military community. His continuous efforts to support and give back to service members have gone unnoticed by none and Sherman’s platform and genuine passion for this cause have allowed him to make an impact on the lives of many active duty members, retired military personnel, and their families.
Los Angeles Chargers – DONNIE EDWARDS (Former Linebacker)
During Edwards five seasons with the team, #59 was twice voted as an All-Pro linebacker and at the time of his retirement, Edwards was one of only eight players in the history of the NFL to record 20 interceptions and 20 sacks over a career. While he was heavily involved with bettering the community and actively supporting the military during his playing days, Edwards has taken full advantage of his connections off the field to support the world around him, especially our military veterans, in his post-football life. It was Edwards’ long-standing family ties to the military which moved him to lend his support to our troops overseas, including participating in seven tours with the USO proudly working to help boost morale for members of our military. “My family has been in the military since grandpa, who is a Pearl Harbor survivor with the 25th infantry division. His service and sacrifice to this country has always pushed me to support our military and so I’m a life-long supporter of our military,” said Edwards. But now Edwards’ passion has taken a very special direction as he has turned his attention and time to assisting The Greatest Generation Foundation. “Primarily what I do now is I work with The Greatest Generation Foundation. We take World War II veterans back to their battlefields and memorials so they can make peace and pay respect to their fallen brothers who never got a chance to live a full life. It’s been really rewarding for me. I’ve been taking back veterans for about 10 years and I’ve done over 25 programs around the world, from Berchtesgaden, Germany to the beaches of Iwo Jima, and all in-between.” Edwards finds that being able to help those who answered the call of duty to serve our country is a reward unlike any other and it’s truly become a passion.
To commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day, Chargers Legend, Donnie Edwards, had a goal to return as many veterans as he could to Normandy. His goal was achieved earlier this offseason, as Edwards and his Best Defense Foundation took 16 veterans and a nurse who served in World War II on a 10-day trip to the shores of northern France. “I am very honoured and proud to bring these great men back to Normandy and also very proud to be bringing back a World War II nurse who served in triage tents, nursing our wounded men,” Edwards said. “We’ve attended ceremonies, parades, visited schools, and several of our veterans will be receiving their French Legion of Honor Award. We will spend time with the vets in private settings where they are able to reconnect with each other and share memories and stories.”
He has participated in several USO tours. Last year, Edwards along with two other NFL Legends went to Japan on an NFL-USO Tour. Edwards regularly returns veterans to their former battlefields, something he’s been doing for the last 14 years. Like Normandy, he took seven Iwo Jima survivors back to the islands earlier this year. He credits the game of football for giving him the platform to do so much for those who served. “I come from a big family, nine people, and my mom’s first-generation from Mexico,” Edwards noted. “Growing up, this game of football has provided me a tremendous opportunity to get educated (and) change my life financially. To play 14 years in the NFL, this platform I have from playing ball allows me to give back to the military; to serve and say thank you. To be born in this country, I’m just truly blessed to play football and change my life.”
His dedication to giving back comes from his family. His grandfather, Sergeant Maximino Razo, was a Pearl Harbor survivor, a father-figure for Edwards growing up, and ultimately, his inspiration. “I do it in his honour and his legacy,” he said. “Growing up, he took care of me when I was young, and now I’m taking care of the guys. Our motto is, ‘Taking care of the ones who took care of us.'” His desire, in his post-football career, to help those who fought for our freedoms on countless battlefields heal their old wounds and say goodbye to long lost friends makes him special.
Los Angeles Rams – ANDREW WHITWORTH (Offensive Tackle)
Whitworth was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in 2006, where he played 11 seasons before signing with the Rams in 2017. As soon as he joined the Rams organization, he made an immediate impact in the community, including with the military members and veterans living in the Los Angeles region. Through the Rams’ All-Community Team ticket program, Andrew purchases 50 tickets for every home game and donates the tickets to military organizations such as USC Veterans group, Merging Vets and Players (MVP) and a variety of local military bases. Whitworth, who has a strong relationship with Merging Vets & Players’ co-founders, Jay Glazer and Nate Boyer, spends much of his offseason training with some of M.V.P veterans and even represented MVP during the 2017 and 2018 ‘My Cause My Cleats’ campaign.
Last year, Andrew joined MVP co-founder, Nate Boyer, and two veterans with ties to Hollywood Veteran Center, a homeless shelter strictly for veterans, in a conversation about why he is so strongly connected to helping veterans and in turn, the veterans shared their stories and how much they owe to the Hollywood Veterans Center. The conversation was followed by a tour of the veterans’ shelter where Andrew was able to interact with residents and finished with a surprise ticket donation for the Rams’ Salute to Service game. Most recently, Andrew has helped organize a workout with MVP veterans and Rams players that will take place at the Los Angeles Rams practice facility the day before the Rams Salute to Service game.
Miami Dolphins – BILL GALANTE (Senior Vice President of Guest Services)
Dolphins Vice President of Guest and VIP Services, William Galante is a long-time advocate of active duty military and veterans. Over his 25 years with the Dolphins, he has provided numerous tours, VIP experiences and special access to military groups that reach out while in town, specifically working closely with Fleet Week every May. Since taking over the Guest Experience department in 2015, Bill has conducted large scale Veteran Hiring events each year.
In February of 2018, Galante visited American troops in Honduras alongside Dolphins Legends, Cheerleaders, and the Dolphins Mascot “T.D.”. This year, he attended the ship commissioning in Miami for the USS Paul Ignatius as well as fundraising events for the commissioning. Additionally, this May, Galante participated in Miami Navy Week, providing over 100 sailors exclusive experiences as well as attending the proclamation event at the port of Miami. He has attended multiple events to help raise funds for Fleet Week and Honor Flight South Florida.
Minnesota Vikings – KIM KLAWITER (Director of Security)
Kim Klawiter is one of several Minnesota Vikings staff members who is a veteran. He enjoys seeing the support for current soldiers and veterans that occurs during annual Salute to Service games and through other initiatives like the Veterans Voyage, which is an exclusive trip to Washington, D.C., for a group of former service members and guests. The former Army Master Sergeant is in his 15th season with the Vikings, an organization he’s followed since its inception in 1961 when he was growing up in White Bear Lake.
During his time in the Army, the young 20-year old was assigned to Cu Chi, Vietnam, an area north-west of Saigon known for a tunnel system that posed hidden hazards. He led men through jungles where trees were about 5 meters apart. Klawiter was awarded a Bronze Star medal for heroism. An Army letter announcing the award says: “Sergeant Klawiter, disregarding his own safety, raced forward to the foremost position and found that several men had been wounded. Seeing one of the men exposed, Sergeant Klawiter crawled forward until he reached the wounded man. Although under intense fire, Sergeant Klawiter carried his injured comrade back to a safe area and got medical treatment for him. His valorous actions were responsible for saving a man’s life.”. In addition to the Bronze Star, Klawiter received multiple other awards that included a Purple Heart, an Army commendation medal and Vietnam campaign and service medals to name a few. Klawiter returned home without much time to adjust. “I went from foxhole, to Los Angeles, to two weeks later, I’m at the University of Minnesota attending class.”
Klawiter joined the Minnesota Vikings staff as the Director of Security in 2004 after serving 24 years with the Minnesota State Patrol and retiring as a Lieutenant. He is an active Leader of the Law Enforcement Memorial Association, which is dedicated to assisting the families and home agencies of those law enforcement officers who have died in the line of duty. However, his commitment to the military men, women, and families of our country has never wavered. He often personally assists and facilitates reenlistment ceremonies and goes out of his way to meet with military guests when hosted by the team. He has been an ardent supporter of the Minnesotans’ Military Appreciation Fund, a statewide fundraising initiative that shows appreciation and respect to efforts of military members by providing cash grants to all Minnesota service members who have served in combat zones since September 2001, and to the families of fallen service members. Kim is beloved by players, coaches, staff, and the community as a whole. We will never be able to thank him enough for his sacrifice and dedication.
New England Patriots – JOE CARDONA (Long Snapper)
Joe Cardona epitomizes what it means to be a Patriot. Following an impressive high school athletic career, Joe enrolled in the Naval Academy Preparatory School. Upon completing the prep year, Joe attended the Naval Academy where he was a four-year player as a long snapper. He later became one of only a handful of long snappers to ever be drafted into the NFL after the New England Patriots selected him in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL draft. During his rookie season, Joe was also balancing a second full-time job. He was an Ensign in the Navy and worked as a staff officer at the Naval Academy Preparatory School in Rhode Island. During the 2015 season, he was working his second job four days a week, which included a 24-hour shift during the team’s “day off.” In 2017, Joe was promoted to Lieutenant Junior Grade (LTJG) and served as a junior commissioned officer in the United States Navy. On the 75th anniversary of D-Day – June 6, 2019 – Joe was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant in the Navy. He proudly wears his Naval uniform as the team boards the plane for away games and remains humble about his service to our country.
When asked about his dedication to the Naval Academy, Joe simply states, “It’s just about doing your job. Whether that’s on the military end, or the football end, it’s showing up every single day and doing the best you can.” Over the past five seasons, he has taken advantage of every opportunity to show his appreciation for his fellow servicemen and women. Following a preseason joint practice with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2017, Cardona hosted a special re-enlistment ceremony for two brave individuals. After practice, he changed into uniform, led the ceremony and recruited the Patriots and Jaguars players and coaches to be a part of it. Joe has facilitated more than a dozen re-enlistment and retirement ceremonies at Gillette Stadium for his fellow military members. He also led a handful of free football clinics for military children at military bases across New England, including Hanscom Air Force Base and Naval Station Newport. Three years ago, Joint Base Cape Cod experienced a fire that burned several of their storage buildings. Inside of one of those buildings were toys for military families to receive during the holidays. Joe quickly decided to visit the base and worked with the Patriots Foundation to collect toys that would help to replace the ones that were lost.
During the 2017 season, Joe spoke with Patriots team captains and came up with an idea to do something special for our nation’s military. During a team meeting, Joe encouraged all of his teammates and the coaching staff to donate a pair of tickets to their Oct. 22 game against Atlanta. Thanks to Joe’s leadership, more than 150 military members, who have returned from deployment within the past six months, were invited to the game and took part in a special pregame ceremony. Each year during Memorial Day weekend, Joe helps plant more than 37,000 American flags in the Boston Common to honour all of the brave men and women from Massachusetts that have lost their lives defending our country. He has also hand-delivered new bicycles to military families, put the finishing touches on a new home for a wounded veteran and taken part in special pinning ceremonies for Vietnam War veterans. Joe has also offered his support to the Travis Manion Foundation, a nonprofit organization that empowers veterans and families of fallen heroes to develop character in future generations. Last August, Patriots Chairman and CEO Robert Kraft presented Joe Cardona with the Ron Burton Community Service Award. This award is named after Ron Burton, the first player drafted by the Patriots who left a legacy of giving back to the community. Joe became the 16th player to receive this award and was recognized for his outstanding commitment to military families and veterans.
Joe has a genuine appreciation for people who make the ultimate sacrifice to defend our country. When asked about his military experience, Joe replies, “It’s given me a good perspective on what’s really important in life. I appreciate our nation’s service members so much, especially being able to take pride in counting myself among them. Ultimately, that’s the uniform I put on first, and when I get the opportunity to go out on the field and play, I take that as a blessing every single day.”
New Orleans Saints – CAMERON JORDAN (Defensive End)
The nine-year Saints NFL veteran is a stalwart in the community, especially when it comes to supporting the military both locally and worldwide. In both the 2017 and 2019 off-season’s, he participated in the NFL’s USO Tour. In 2017, he made his first tour visiting troops in the Middle East and Southwest Asia. In 2019, Jordan represented the club and the NFL as he visited troops and their families in South Korea. Annually, he has also taken part in several events locally in the New Orleans area related to the military including visiting local military bases and taking part in the Pros vs. G.I. Joes video gaming tournaments at the team’s facility with local active military while playing against military members overseas.
Jordan also has taken a real interest in engaging with Mr. Lawrence Brooks, a (now) 110-year old World War II veteran (one of the oldest surviving veterans) and New Orleanian. Jordan first met Mr. Brooks at a walk-through practice at the Ochsner Sports Performance Center in 2017. Brooks imparted words of wisdom on the team discussing his long life of both military and civilian experiences. Jordan was so impressed by Brooks’ vitality, experience, and interest in meeting with the team, that he gifted him tickets to Super Bowl LII and delivered the good news by a Facetime call. Jordan is currently tied for third in team record books with 76.5 career sacks and tied for eighth in the NFL in 2019 with five quarterback takedowns through the first six games.
New York Giants – GOLDEN TATE (Wide Receiver)
Golden Tate has shown his passion and dedication to those who have served in the United States Military through the creation of his foundation the Golden Future Foundation. In 2014, Golden and his wife, Elise, created the Golden Future Foundation. This foundation is set up to enhance the lives of American Heroes and their families. Golden Tate also participated in the 2016 NFL-USO Tour.
Their passion for giving back to the military is because Golden’s grandfather and both of Elise’s grandfathers served in the military. They believe that the true American heroes in our country are often overlooked, and they deserve our utmost respect, appreciation, and resources to get acclimated back into society after serving our country. Through the foundation, Golden and Elise have dedicated their resources, energy and time, to help provide a Golden Future for our true American Heroes. Golden has hosted numerous events to show his support for the military as well as raising funds for his foundation to assist veterans to reacclimate to everyday life once returning home from service to our country. From Coat Drives to bowling events, Golden has contributed his time and resources to ensuring that members of the military receive the respect, honour, and appreciation they deserve.
New York Jets – STEVE CASTLETON (Front Office Staff)
Steve has been the Military Liaison for the New York Jets Salute to Service events since 2013 where he first coordinated on-field and satellite activities at numerous military bases in Kandahar, Afghanistan and Bagram, Afghanistan for our Armed Forces. Since 2013 Steve has coordinated all the pre-game and half-time activities for the New York Jets at both their Salute to Service and First Responder appreciation days. With the completion of the 2019 New York Jets annual Salute to Service Game, Steve’s has now organized the enlistment and re-enlistments of over 1,000 members of the United States Armed Forces at professional sporting events. One of Steve’s favourite projects, which took one year to bring to fruition, occurred on Friday, Aug. 26, 2016 when at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan the United States Army held the first “NY Sports Event” for the 10th MTN Battalion’s Organizational Day. Working with the 10th Mountain Division a “sports field” was carved out of the Afghanistan soil. Steve worked with the Jets to send custom designed jerseys in conjunction with Operation “Resolute Support”.
Since 2016, Steve has coordinated the “Turkey Bowl” flag football game which was held at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan. In November 2017 Steve has also organized another football event overseas for the Armed Forces, this time in Yokosuka, Japan with the Forward Deployed Naval Forces (FDNF). He personally funded the USO tailgate party. During Fleet Week in 2019 he organized the first annual Navy vs. Marines Flag Football game at the New York Jets Florham Park, New Jersey training facility. The New York Jets made custom jerseys for both teams. Steve brought New York Jets Legends Marty Lyons and Tony Richardson on-board the U.S.S. New York for an overnight embark during which both Tony and Marty held “chalk talks” individually with the Marines and the Navy flag football teams. Afterwards the New York Jets treated both teams and all those service members attending to a gourmet BBQ. Steve has 2 sons, Brian and Rich and a daughter-in-law, Nicole in the United States Army where they have served a combined over 35 years and counting. His youngest son Sal helps him at many of these events. Non-Profit Organizations: The Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) and Tunnel2Towers Foundation.
Oakland Raiders – MARK VAN EEGHEN (Former Running Back)
During the Raiders International trip to London, Mark joined fellow Legend and current Raider players to visit the Royal Air Force Mildenhall Base in Suffolk, England to meet and support the troops stationed there. During the visit, Mark engaged with active duty Airmen and their families, passed out Raiders merchandise, posed for pictures and signed autographs at the Community Center. After eating lunch with Airmen, he toured the base’s CV22 Ospreys and C130s and met the units assigned to the planes. Mark was presented a commander’s coin by the base’s commanding officer during the visit. Mark’s daughter, Brooke, also served as a Major in the Air Force.
On the Saturday before the Raiders International matchup with the Bears in London, Mark and his fellow Legends welcomed the families of fallen heroes from the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) to the team’s morning walkthrough. Mark spent time with the 45 family members in attendance and toured the group around the team’s practice facility in Watford. He spoke to the families and answered questions about his playing days before the team took the field to run through Sunday’s scripted play. Each of the team’s position groups represented the name of a different fallen hero on the back of their jersey, and after practice the players joined with Mark and the Legends to meet with the families to sign autographs and take pictures.
Philadelphia Eagles – MALIK JACKSON (Defensive Tackle)
Over Malik Jackson’s eight years in the NFL, he has shown a dedication towards giving back to members of the military and their families. His foundation, Malik’s Gifts, serves as an all-encompassing support network for veterans, active duty service members, and military families. These events include shopping events where he has donated his time, resources, and money to make Five Star Veterans feel appreciated. He has hosted football camps, movie nights, and bowling events for hundreds of children of military members.
More than his donations, or the events he has hosted, Malik, truly cares about the whole family and the effect that having a loved one serving in the military can have on children, spouses, and the extended family. A former Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award nominee, he values the time he has spent with each of them. Malik’s contagious personality and humanitarian ways have been life-changing for the men and women who proudly serve and protect our country’s freedom. In addition to the efforts Malik has made to the communities he supports, Malik has a special connection to the military as Malik’s father served in the United States Army.
Pittsburgh Steelers – ALEJANDRO VILLANUEVA (Offensive Tackle)
Before even becoming a Pittsburgh Steeler, Alejandro Villanueva, has shown appreciation for his country. Alejandro served as a captain in the United States Army, in which he served as an Army Ranger and was decorated with a Bronze Star for valor. A hero both on and off the field, Alejandro Villanueva has shown his gratitude and appreciation to the veteran community. Each year he participates in Heroes at Heinz Field; a day focused on giving back to veterans and their families through on field activities and a free dinner at Heinz Field.
In addition to this, Villanueva has shown his gratitude by donating his time and resources to the Veterans Place, a local nonprofit in the Pittsburgh area committed to ending homelessness. During his visit to Veterans Place he personally visited every townhouse on the property where veterans live, giving them a boost as they go through personal struggles. Alejandro also continuously works very closely with The Warrior Foundation in order to provide recent military veterans and their families the opportunity to attend preseason games.
San Francisco 49ers – JOHN LYNCH (General Manager and Former Strong Safety)
One of the most respected players to ever play the game of football, and a five-time finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, John Lynch enters his third season as the team’s General Manager following a 15-year playing career and more than eight seasons as an NFL analyst. In addition to his passion for professional football, Lynch has a longstanding appreciation for the United States military. As someone whose grandfather and great uncle volunteered for the Army the day after the deadly attacks on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Lynch has the utmost respect for our military service men and women and has committed time and resources towards supporting the United States Armed Forces for decades. Since 1998, Lynch has frequented various Air Force bases and military hospitals to personally thank those serving in the military, including MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, Walter Reed Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland, and various visits to Fort Carson and Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado.
In 2002, the John Lynch Foundation hosted the ‘Salute the Stars & Stripes’ fundraiser honouring then United States Army Commander of United States Central Command Tommy Franks. “Military appreciation is so important to me, because we understand that the unbelievable freedoms, ideals and realities that make America – in my mind – the greatest country in the world are given to us because a lot of people sacrificed for them. To me, no one does so more than the military.” For these efforts and more, Lynch was the recipient of the 2006 Bart Starr Award, which is voted upon by players throughout the NFL and recognizes a player who shows outstanding character and leadership in the home, on the field and in the community. During his last season playing in the NFL (2007), Lynch hosted troops from Buckley Air Force Base (Aurora, Colorado) during the Denver Broncos training camp at Dove Valley.
Lynch’s military appreciation continues to this day. Every year since 2011, he has hosted military families at the annual Lynch Christmas Party in Colorado and each holiday season with the 49ers, he hosts military families and underserved youth for a holiday party and practice visit. These military families are without mother or father during the holiday season due to deployment and have the opportunity to enjoy brunch and view a closed practice from the sidelines.
During training camp in 2018 and 2019 with the 49ers, Lynch again welcomed 250 active duty troops and veterans for a VIP practice experience and then hosted a meet-and-greet with players and coaches. In November 2017, Lynch spearheaded a visit to the USO office at the San Jose Military Entrance Processing Station in order to congratulate newly enlisted recruits heading off to basic training and thank them for their dedication of service. Lynch’s commitment to supporting veteran organizations like USO Bay Area, has driven a close partnership with the nonprofit and the 49ers that has led to new opportunities to support their troops and families with game tickets, Salute to Service program involvement and choosing USO Bay Area as the 50/50 raffle beneficiary for the 2019 Salute to Service game.
Seattle Seahawks – MIKE FLOOD (Front Office Staff)
Seattle Seahawks Community Outreach Vice President, Mike Flood, has played an essential role with the development of a distinguished relationship between the Seattle Seahawks and the local military elements in the Pacific Northwest since joining the team on July 1, 1997. Joining Seahawks Legends Chuck Knox and Shaun Alexander, Mr. Flood was inducted into the Class of 2019 Pacific Northwest Football Hall of Fame for his community outreach efforts. Not only is Mr. Flood an active military supporter, he is also a military veteran. For 22 years, Mr. Flood was a pilot in the United States Coast Guard. Piloting C-130s, Dassault Falcon Jets, and H60 Jayhawk helicopters, Mr. Flood conducted search and rescue missions along the Oregon and Washington coast until retiring as a Commander in 1996. Mr. Flood introduced the Seahawks to the Fisher House, a non-profit organization that provides a home for military families free of charge while their loved ones are in the hospital. He was instrumental in a community-wide campaign to raise awareness and funds to build a second Fisher House facility in the Pacific Northwest.
Mr. Flood is also an active board member of Camp Patriot, a veteran based non-profit organization created to provide outdoor recreation activities for disabled veterans. Camp Patriot has activities such as hiking, fishing, and hunting as recreational therapy and promotes positive life-changing relationships between military veterans and the great outdoors. Mr. Flood assisted in the creation of the Military Sea Hawkers, a group of military veterans from all branches who share a love for the Seattle Seahawks. This military group plays an active role at all Seahawks home games, hosting new in-coming military service members and military re-enlistment ceremonies.
In 2012, Mr. Flood was recognized by Governor’s Veteran Affairs Advisory Committee (VAAC) and the Washington State Department of Veteran Affairs and awarded the Outstand Service to Veterans Award. This award is the highest honour that the VAAC bestows to individuals that are effective in the community working to improve the lives of military veterans in Washington State. In 2013, Mr. Flood was highly influential in the creation of the ‘Heroes of 12’ initiative where dedicated 6 of our lower bowl stadium seats are dedicated to our local military members and their families. These game day seats come at no cost to the service members and their families. As you can see from the examples above, when it comes to overall impact for service members and their families here in the Pacific Northwest, Mike Flood stands alone. His contributions and relentless efforts to support the well-being and morale for all our local military has been invaluable.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – RYAN JENSEN (Center)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers center, Ryan Jensen, has plenty of family ties to the military. His grandfather, Keith Palmer, served in Vietnam and Korea as a member of the Army’s 101st Airborne Division. His uncle, also Keith Palmer, followed his father’s footsteps into the Army, as well. Jensen’s adopted brother, Alec Hatfield is currently serving in the Marine Corps and has served two tours in both Afghanistan and Iraq. But Jensen’s calling to get more involved in military initiatives came when he met three-year-old Cooper. While Jensen was playing for the Baltimore Ravens, the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), that provides care and support to Gold Star Families who are grieving the loss of a member of the armed forces. Cooper never met his father, who was killed in action, but immediately took to Jensen at training camp one day because Jensen’s infamous fiery red locks matched those of Cooper’s. They’ve kept in contact ever since, with Cooper, now nine, providing Jensen perspective on life.
It inspired Jensen to continue work with military organizations like the USO. Jensen has visited MacDill Air Force Base with the Buccaneers, as well as participated in Bucs’ Armed Forces initiatives like Military Day at training camp and the Schwarzkopf Military Family Awards, which honours military families from each branch. “It’s awesome when we as players go to these events and just hang out with them and talk with them,” said Jensen. “It makes them feel like they’re part of a team again, because like football, the military is just one giant team.” At home games, he sponsors a community ticket program named “Jensen’s G.I. Joes” for military veterans to come to games at Raymond James Stadium. Jensen has also visited Veteran’s Assistance hospitals to lighten the spirits of patients there on his own. He hopes that his example of service will spark his son, Wyatt, to follow the same path of serving others as he grows up. “As leaders not just on a football team, but as men trying to raise other men, I hope to raise him in a way that he wants to serve other people and provide some hope to guys who are needing it or women that are needing it,” Jensen said. “I hope it sparks a passion for him to find something that he wants to make better.”
Tennessee Titans – FLOYD HYDE (FRONT OFFICE STAFF)
Army Retired Captain, Floyd Allen Hyde, has distinguished himself with over 40 years of exceptionally meritorious service to our Nation and the United States Army. His extraordinary career culminated with him serving as the Automotive Maintenance Manager for the United States Army Tennessee National Guard. His career included a multitude of essential assignments of increased responsibility, where he consistently demonstrated exceptional leadership, dedicated service, and commitment to soldiers. In 2008-2009, Mr. Hyde served as the Clearing and Security Team Operations Officer for 3rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command. He oversaw logistics, repairs, and replacement of rolling stock for all Brigade Combat Teams (BCT’s).
His continuous efforts aided in the success of all missions and provided a functional means of transportation for soldiers departing and returning to their Area of Operations (AO) During 2005-2006, while mobilized in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and attached to 2nd Marine Division, he served as the Maintenance Control Officer and the Anti-Terrorism Officer. Mr. Hyde completed high-quality maintenance and provided training for all BCT cycles that fulfilled the Commander s intent and set the standard for the Marine Division within the AO. His hard work and dedication to duty led to the preparation of future soldiers and Marines to support the Global War on Terror. Mr. Hyde currently serves as the Safety Act Manager at Nissan Stadium. Soldiers and service members are a tremendous part of the Titans Community. He is always cognizant of his facility, especially when military members are present. He highly enjoys going out and greeting the currently serving military members, sharing stories and offering guidance to them.
Washington Redskins – JONATHAN ALLEN (Defensive End)
Allen has established himself as a valuable interior defender over his first two NFL seasons. He recorded 61 total tackles (11 for a loss) in 2018, and his eight sacks were second on the team to four-time Pro Bowler Ryan Kerrigan. However, if Allen was not clogging running lanes or bringing down opposing quarterbacks, he said he would be serving his country. Allen comes from a military family; his father and uncle served in the United States Army, while his two brothers currently serve in the military. Allen is a notable figure signing autographs and shaking hands during the Redskins preseason Salute to Service programs and events. Striking to most, Allen can be seen addressing every uniformed service member lining the field during the Redskins’ Salute the Troops OTA Day, Military Appreciation Day at training camp, base practice on Joint Base Andrews, and most if not all, in-season military events. “I hope I mean a lot to [service members], because what we do is nothing compared to what they have to do or go through,” Allen said during Redskins Salute OTA Day in May.
“It means a lot, so I make sure I shake each one’s hand individually.” With the NFL’s Salute to Service month in sight, Allen was most recently able to surprise a group of thirty transitioning service members at FedExField in honour of a USO Employee Readiness Workshop aimed at preparing active-duty service members for their transition into civilian professional environments on Tuesday, Oct. 8. He expressed his gratitude to the group for their sacrifice and service to our country.
Additionally, he highlighted two of the Redskins very own, Emily Arnsberg & Charnecia McGee, who both recently transitioned out of the military after a combined 15 years of service and hold titles as FedEx Football Fellows with the organization. While presenting the two with autographed jerseys, Allen expressed, “It’s important to highlight the two of you not only for your service to our country, not only for what you do for our organization, but what you experience as transitioning service members in these new roles. We appreciate everything you do.”