Speaking to agents, analysts, and support personnel at the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Boston division, a question from the audience made Joe Cardona reflect on his first year in the NFL.
The New England Patriots selected him as a pure long snapper out of the United States Naval Academy in 2015, but that meant a robust schedule for a rookie trying to balance professional football with serving as an active-duty Sailor that first season.
"Sometimes I look back and ask myself how I did that," Cardona, now a Navy Lieutenant and NFL veteran entering his eighth with the team, said of his daily commutes back and forth from practice in Foxboro, Mass. to his naval base in Newport, R.I. At the time, he didn't think much of it.
"That's just the work that was demanded of me."
That mentality and approach have allowed Cardona to excel in two very different careers and is part of why the FBI invited him Wednesday to honor Military Appreciation Month before many FBI employees who have military backgrounds or are fellow reservists.
"To be honest, when the FBI says they want you to come down to the office, I don't know if you really have a choice," Cardona joked to those in-person at the Chelsea office and tuning in on a video conference from all over New England.
"I wanted to make sure I came down and showed my appreciation for you all. The work that is done in this office to keep this region secure and safe is so significant. It's something that when you leave this building, a majority of the public probably doesn't know your role here, they don't know the things you touch on a daily basis, but it's important."
Growing up in a Naval family that prioritized public service and making a difference in their Southern California community, those values are engrained in the two-time Super Bowl champion. In New England, he's built two careers that allow him the platform and resources to act on them.
"I never for a second thought I'd ever get down in the NFL, but here I am, years down the road with a couple of Super Bowls, and extremely grateful. Not only for the opportunity to play, but to play in this area. When you go out into this community, you see people that care about this country. They care about the community they're living in. That's something that I've really kept with me."
He relayed that his two roles couldn't be further apart, but there are a few parallels between his work in the service and on the football field.
Every day, he gets to see performance and teamwork at the highest level. And while his long commutes aren't required as often, the same level of preparation is necessary.
"In the way we go about preparing to accomplish a mission, I get to do that every week on the field," Cardona said.
"You must instantly step in and fill that role of the professional warfighter right off the bat. There's no acclimation period. There's no learning period. Remaining ready for that role is something that for me personally, when I look at it from a football standpoint, if I'm not ready to step on the field and play in any situation, then I'm doing a disservice to the team. Vice versa for me as an Officer, as a Sailor, if I'm not fundamentally ready to go and do my job and what's asked of me at any moment's notice."
It's a mantra the Patriots hold in high regard, and in 2019, his coaches and teammates got to watch Cardona get promoted to lieutenant on the practice field.
He received his new rank on the 75th anniversary of D-Day, and almost three years later, was mindful of that holiday and the other individual days of remembrance that fall around this time of year.
"We go through this month of May into the first few weeks of June, there's a lot of opportunity for reflection when it comes to public service – being a national month where we recognize the military," Cardona said.
"We remember certain things that happened in this timeframe, and I call upon all of you to continue to be cognizant of that. As we take steps throughout our day-to-day lives, we can always use those values and things that make our day-to-day work important and carry that into our civilian life."