The NFL and USAA, an official NFL Salute to Service partner, announced the 2021 nominees for the eleventh annual Salute to Service Award presented by USAA. The Salute to Service Award recognizes NFL players, coaches, staff and alumni with demonstrable commitment to honoring and supporting military and veteran communities, as nominated by NFL clubs.
Finalists are scheduled to be announced in January, and the recipient will be recognized at NFL Honors, a primetime awards special to air nationally the week of Super Bowl LVI.
"Now more than ever, it's essential that our nation come together to support and show appreciation for those Americans who are serving and have served our country, as well as their families," said Vice Admiral (Ret.) John Bird, USAA Senior Vice President of Military Affairs. "This year's nominees for the Salute to Service Award presented by USAA all deserve special recognition for stepping up to support our military community, and we are encouraged to see this list of diverse nominees coming from all areas of the NFL organization."
Last year's recipient was Steve Cannon, CEO of the Atlanta Falcons' parent company AMB Sports and Entertainment. Cannon will serve on the award panel and vote to select the 2021 Salute to Service Award recipient.
As the presenting sponsor of the Salute to Service Award, USAA, a leading provider of insurance and other financial services to U.S. military members, veterans and their families, will contribute $25,000 in the recipient's name to official aid societies representing all U.S. military branches. The NFL will match USAA's contribution by donating an additional $25,000 to the awardee's military or veteran charity of choice.
The Salute to Service Award is part of the NFL and USAA's year-round commitment to recognize and honor the military and veteran community. Each year, the NFL and its 32 teams come together to honor, empower, and connect with members of the military as part of the NFL's Salute to Service initiative. The league's military appreciation efforts culminate in November with NFL Salute to Service games and other special events honoring and thanking veterans, active-duty service members and their families.
Below is a list of the 2021 Salute to Service Award presented by USAA nominees:
TERESA MILLER (Director, Financial Planning & Analysis – Club Staff)
Teresa Miller, director for financial planning and analysis, represents the Cardinals' commitment to the military and veteran communities, in part by being a woman veteran of the U.S. Army who served in a war zone. She spent 10 months in Kuwait and Iraq as a truck driver, where Teresa was exposed to danger every day. She grew accustomed to sleeping on cots in tents with no air conditioning, with 40 other soldiers or sleeping on top of a fuel truck under the stars when out on missions. For most of Teresa's tour, she had to hand wash clothes in buckets and shower in tents using water stored in bags under the hot desert sun all day, and as a restroom she had to either dig holes or sit on modified 5-gallon fuel cans. Below is how she supports the military today ensuring our Nation's heroes know they are loved and respected during their transition into civilian life. She coordinates game day experiences for veterans from MANA House in Phoenix (transitional housing/programs), writes letters, attends events, volunteers at events to raise money in support of veterans and veteran initiatives (specifically with Wounded Warrior Project Softball Team through Veterans Medical Leadership Council; MANA House & Bernie's Place through Catholic Charities). Teresa serves on the board of The Crossroads, Inc. (2018 to present) which serves anyone seeking recovery from drug and alcohol addiction.
ARTHUR BLANK (Owner)
Honor. Empower. Connect – the core values of NFL's Salute to Service initiative also applies to nationally recognized business legend, philanthropist and Atlanta Falcons owner, Arthur M. Blank, who is committed to serving America's heroes. Arthur started his family foundation in 1995. After 25+ years and more than $800 million in giving as of July 2021, The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation has committed to significantly accelerating the impact of its philanthropy over the next 10+ years. Since 2008, the foundation has committed more than $28 million in grants to nonprofits supporting the military and veterans. The foundation also guides seven associate-led giving committees operating across the Blank Family of Businesses, one of which has a focus on supporting veterans and their families. The Overwatch Fund is a group of associates from across the Blank Family of Businesses who are U.S. military veterans or have strong personal connections to military service including family of service members. To date, the committee has committed more than $2 million in grants. Since purchasing West Creek Ranch in 2017, Arthur has transformed the property in Paradise Valley, Montana, into a no-cost, five-star venue for nonprofit partners, to focus on relationships and pursue innovative solutions. In this 2021 season, nonprofit partners like the Boulder Crest Foundation: Warrior PATHH (Progressive Alternative Training for Healing Heroes), Mission 85 and TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors), have come together at West Creek. Arthur also believes in the power of partnership and connection to grow and scale ideas. In February 2021, Arthur joined his Home Depot co-founder, Bernie Marcus, and actor and humanitarian Gary Sinise to launch the Gary Sinise Foundation Avalon Network. This cognitive health and mental wellness network provides transformative care to veterans and first responders experiencing post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injuries and substance abuse. Between its 20 centers nationwide, The Gary Sinise Foundation Avalon Network will treat nearly 10,000 veterans a year. Perhaps Arthur's most influential and visible businesses – the Atlanta Falcons – brings immeasurable national attention to our military. Since 2012, the Falcons have initiated more than 150 engagements to help our troops, veterans, and their families. In recognition of these types of commitments to military, Arthur was named to a two-year term as Honorary Commander of the Georgia National Guard from 2017-2019. In 2019, Arthur joined Falcons players, coaches, and staff on a two-day trip to the United States Military Academy at West Point where he led engagements on leadership and service with cadets, academy leaders and the Army football team. Veterans serve as key leaders in the Blank Family of Businesses. Arthur believes that hiring veterans not only creates a culture of appreciation, but it also enables action to support military that matters.
JARRET JOHNSON (NFL Legend)
As an active player, and certainly since his retirement from the NFL in 2015, Ravens Legend, Jarret Johnson has demonstrated a constant commitment to honoring military men, women and their families. With the goal to employ veterans, Johnson recently partnered with a service-disabled Air Force veteran to start a Black Rifle Coffee franchise in Niceville, Florida. The franchise employs over 40 veterans, active-duty servicemen and women, veteran spouses and children of military members from all around the world. Johnson is an annual sponsor of SOF Missions, a 501c(3) non-profit that provides care to veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) with the goal of ending veteran suicide. He organized, sponsored and participated in "The Murph Crossfit Exercise" on Memorial Day 2021. The workout consisted of a 1-mile run, 100 pullups, 200 pushups and 300 air squats, followed by another 1-mile run, all while wearing a 25lbs weighted vest. The event had over 300 participants and raised nearly $15,000 for the EOD Warrior Foundation and Pipe Hitter Foundation. This event, originally started in Johnson's backyard, has grown into a large community-wide activation. Recently, he also welcomed other former NFL players including Phillip Rivers, Nick Hardwick, Jeremy Clary, Haloti Ngata, Marshall Yanda and Brian Madison to participate in the event. The players spoke with special operations members about the transition from the service, which poses similar challenges for NFL players as they leave the sport. Johnson regularly provides leadership development and positive motivation to the Army's 7th Special Forces Group (SFG) through various speaking engagements, basic range shooting events, fishing trips, veteran family cookouts and frequent participation in grueling physical workouts with Special Forces A-teams. In May, he completed the 2nd Annual 7th SFG Savage Loop ultramarathon, a 43-mile run around the Bay in the Niceville-Destin-Fort Walton Beach area of Florida. Johnson has also invited several former NFL players to attend and speak to senior Special Forces members at a leadership retreat hosted by the Army's 6th Ranger Training Battalion at Camp Rudder, Florida.
SEAN MCDERMOTT (Head Coach)
Throughout Head Coach Sean McDermott's tenure with the Buffalo Bills, he has always valued community engagement while methodically transforming the culture of the franchise. A pillar of his outreach has been to support our military. Often Coach McDermott can be found sporting a Bills camouflage hat to show appreciation for the military, especially the many friends and family who have served, including a close friend from college, Colonel Tim Brady of the United States Marine Corps. As quoted in a recent William & Mary College (their alma mater) magazine, McDermott stated of his former classmate "I'm proud to say he's serving our country. The military doesn't always get the credit it deserves." Coach McDermott has been an avid supporter of the Buffalo Bills Salute to Service outreach by bolstering all team events created to honor active servicemembers, military families, and veterans. In 2019, Coach McDermott welcomed a group of World War II veterans through Buffalo Niagara Honor Flight to a practice and surprised the men with the news that they would be honored during a ceremony at a Bills game the following day. For several years, McDermott would greet military members at the team's annual Military Appreciation Day at Buffalo Bills Training Camp, as well as at the Bills Salute to Service gameday each November. In 2021, McDermott was hands-on in honoring our military by joining a flight with The Blue Angels alongside members of the United States Navy. His flight enriched him with perspective on the many skills and talents military members possess to serve our country. Additionally, two members of Coach McDermott's coaching staff—wide receivers coach, Chad Hall, and special teams assistant, Matt Smiley—are military veterans.
CHRISTIAN MCCAFFREY (Running Back)
Upon entering the NFL in 2017 following an All-American career at Stanford University, Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey was quick to establish a focal point of his outreach efforts. "I've always had a huge respect for the military," said Christian. "I have a little bit of military background on my dad's side, so growing up it's just some of the values instilled in me at a young age. Without the men and women who defend our country, I wouldn't be able to play the game that I love so much." Through his personal engagement over the past five seasons, Christian has partnered with military service organizations USO of North Carolina and Veterans Bridge Home in a variety of morale-raising and fundraising efforts. He has also joined forces with team and league partners USAA and Lowe's to support their military outreach initiatives. Christian's efforts are grassroots, grounded and personal. His own game day tradition of providing tickets to service members to each Panthers home game has served dozens of active-duty military. In 2021, Christian embarked on a deeply personal effort to support troops and their families dealing with the challenges of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as his foundation established the 22 and Troops initiative in partnership with REBOOT Recovery. 22 and Troops was launched out of a desire by McCaffrey to support those who have made the greatest sacrifices and need help to address what happens when the uniform comes off, and these heroes come home. With more than 22 veterans dying by suicide every day, these families simply cannot wait. "My own football season in 2020 taught me some lessons about resilience, but that hardly compares to what these heroes face and must grapple with when they come home and make their comeback," said McCaffrey. "With 22 and Troops, we can show our service men and women and their families that we are their community, here to support them. And together with REBOOT, we can offer tools and assistance from others who have walked through this trauma themselves." McCaffrey continued, "I have always planned to get involved on the medical side of it for troops who come home and to make sure their healthcare is top of the line. I get treated every day, and our service men and women deserve the same kind of care when they get back. They deserve a good life when they come back.
JIMMY GRAHAM (Tight End)
Jimmy Graham continues to focus his giving on support for the men and women who serve and have served in the United States military, as he has done throughout his NFL career. The mission of The Jimmy Graham Foundation is to provide life-changing and impactful experiences through the freedom of flight. To recognize the accomplishments and sacrifices of veterans of all eras and provide flights for unfamiliar and underprivileged youth as an introduction to aviation. Jimmy takes veterans up in his two US Army aircraft restorations - a 1957 de Havilland Beaver and 1967 UH1 Iroquois "Huey" helicopter. The Huey served as a part of the 170th Assault Helicopter Company. Both aircraft fought in the Vietnam War, and they are the cornerstone of his giving back to our country. This past year The Jimmy Graham Foundation provided over 50 rides to veterans in South Florida. A particularly special flight was with Tee Sifford, a pilot and purple heart veteran from the Vietnam war. The Jimmy Graham Foundation has also partnered with Luna Cafe in Wisconsin to sell the "Huey Blend" coffee which supports The Jimmy Graham Foundation - www.lunacafe.com/products/jimmygraham. Additionally, he donates tickets to each 2021 Bears home game for the Bears' Boeing Military Salute honoree. During every game an extraordinary service member is recognized in-game and then enjoys watching the Bears from seats, compliments of Jimmy. It is an honor for the Bears to recognize Jimmy for his continued commitment to the military community and nominate him for the NFL Salute to Service Award.
BAKER MAYFIELD (Quarterback)
Throughout Baker Mayfield's entire NFL career, he has been actively involved in showing appreciation and honoring our armed forces. In our home opener against the Houston Texans on September 21st, Baker honored fallen Ohio native and U.S. Navy corpsman Maxton Soviak by wearing custom cleats during warmup. Since 2018, Baker has participated in honoring and speaking with military members during our Training Camp Military Appreciation Day. Each year, Baker has stayed after practice to speak with every military member in attendance and thank them for their service. He has also assembled care packages for troops overseas as part of the Browns Salute to Service First and Ten Tuesday visit and recorded a military appreciation message for service members in attendance of our 2020 Salute to Service Game. Baker is very excited to continue working with the USO of Northern Ohio for upcoming Browns Salute to Service efforts. The Browns believe he has made and will continue to make an impact in the military community.
CHARLOTTE JONES (Executive Vice President & Chief Brand Officer)
For the past 32 years, the Jones family has owned and operated the Dallas Cowboys with a management style that places as much emphasis on community leadership as it does on winning championships. Under the guidance of Charlotte Jones, EVP & Chief Brand Officer, the club takes pride in honoring our nation's military and veterans during Salute to Service (STS) campaigns throughout the year. The team annually schedules a week of STS activities leading up to the STS game, coordinates military days at training camp, engages the military community during NFL Draft and works with USO on several tours and events across the year. In 2019, Jones worked with the City of Arlington to bring the National Medal of Honor Museum (MOHM) to Texas with an opening slated for 2024. Jones now serves as Chairman for MOHM and is guiding the museum's installation near AT&T Stadium. The Medal of Honor is the nation's highest and most prestigious military honor and has been awarded to more than 3,500 service members since it was first presented in 1863. The MOHM will illustrate the historical thread of sacrifice, patriotism and courage that runs through all service members, past and present and will include an education center aimed at character and leadership development in youth. Pre-pandemic, Jones was challenged with raising more than $180 million for the construction project. Despite financial hardships experienced by many during lockdown, Jones rallied Texas donors to fund $110 million of the total goal well before the capitol campaign was promoted nationally – starting with the Jones Family's own $20 million pledge towards construction. Jones will use the Cowboys vs. Broncos game on Nov. 7 to launch the national MOHM fundraising effort with help from FOX Sports. As part of the game, Medal of Honor recipients will be present and recognized in-stadium. Using her expertise in branding and marketing as well as tapping into the Cowboys widespread fanbase, Jones is bringing the values of the Medal of Honor to the entire country – courage, sacrifice, commitment, integrity, citizenship, and patriotism and using her leadership role to bring communities together. In July, the U.S. House unanimously passed the National Medal of Honor Monument Act 416-0 in a rare act of bipartisanship and alongside the 66 living recipients of the Medal of Honor, Jones is bringing heroes' stories to life in a way which compels us all to become better versions of ourselves and lead lives of service.
ANDREW BECK (Tight End)
Denver Broncos tight end Andrew Beck's dedication to serving the military became evident soon after joining the organization during the 2019 season. Over the past three years, he has partnered with America's Gold Star Families, Buckley Air Force Base, Fort Carson Army Base, Freedom Service Dogs, TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors), USO Colorado, VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System, Volunteers of America: Colorado and Wounded Warrior Project. In total, he's reached more than 400 military families through his strategic outreach. Despite cancellations, protocols and restrictions, Beck refused to let the pandemic impact his commitment to support the military. Last November, he assembled Salute to Service care packages for military bases across Colorado and helped host a virtual visit with Wounded Warrior Project veterans. During the offseason, Beck participated in a virtual visit with Buckley Air Force Base and USO Colorado to celebrate WingMan Week, a program dedicated to strengthening connection, relaxation, and the rejuvenation of the fighting spirit. While volunteering at a Salute to Service PLAY 60 Clinic in 2019, Beck learned that kids drove from Fort Carson Army Base in Colorado Springs. Beck's face immediately lit up, as he had played high school football in the area while his dad, Chris, a colonel in the U.S. Army, was stationed at the same base. This spring, Beck took the initiative to partner with USO Colorado to host a barbeque for Fort Carson families. "These guys have such a hard job that people don't understand… it genuinely means more to me than it does to them — I guarantee it." Beck chose to represent America's Gold Star Families for My Cause My Cleats the past two seasons and even auctioned off his cleats to raise funds to sponsor America's Gold Star Families annual 5K Run/1 Mile Walk for Fallen Heroes. This year for My Cause My Cleats, Beck will support Freedom Service Dogs' Operation Freedom program, which helps veterans and active-duty military find a new level of confidence and independence with the help of specially trained service dogs, and recently hosted a visit with a veteran who was impacted through the program.
MAURICE PEARSON (Manager of Player & Alumni Relations – Club Staff)
Maurice Pearson, known affectionately by "Moe" to his colleagues and friends, is a true example of commitment to service, not only to the United States Military, but to all who have the privilege of spending time with him. Moe was a Specialist/E-4, defending the United States against foreign and domestic threats - actively serving overseas from 2000-2003. During his time in the U.S. Army, Moe earned Overseas Medals, an Army Commendation Medal, combat patches for service in hostile combat zones and two Bronze Star Medals. His campaigns of service included Operation Enduring Freedom in Pakistan and Afghanistan & Operation Iraqi Freedom in Iraq. Moe is certified as a combat lifesaver and is trained in defusing hostile situations. During his time in the service, he commanded soldiers in groups of 50-100. Moe was quickly hired to work as a Security Assistant for the Lions, going above and beyond to serve as a bright and positive presence for anyone he met, while taking on all tasks required of his job. Anyone who saw Moe at the Training Facility could truly say he was a joy to be around. He knows everyone by name and never forgot to greet them all with a smile and often a hug. While in his role as Security Assistant, Moe never hesitated to volunteer for community events and volunteer projects, supporting the community relations team and Detroit Lions Foundation. In 2021, in large part due to his strong relationships with the players and football staff along with his commitment to making a difference, Moe was hired as Manager of Player and Alumni Relations, furthering his career in making an impact. So far in his role, he has approached each project, interaction and encounter with positivity, resilience and an attitude of service. He is highly respected in the office, locker room and community. We are so proud to nominate Moe for the 2021 Salute to Service Award and are thankful for his contributions to our country and organization.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
CHRIS GIZZI (Packers Strength & Conditioning Coach)
After taking one visit to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Green Bay Packers strength and conditioning coordinator, Chris Gizzi, knew he had found his calling. "The people…really enticed me. I knew these are the types of people I want to be around…the guys I want to play football with, the men and women I want to go to school with and want to serve with," Chris said. Chris began his Packers career as a player from 2000 until 2001, playing 23 games as linebacker. In the first Monday Night Football game after 9/11, Chris served as special teams captain and led his teammates out of the tunnel with an American flag to provide a display of patriotism and strength for the teams, fans and viewers around the country. He rejoined the team in 2013 as a strength and conditioning intern, and in 2014, he was hired as a strength and conditioning assistant. Now in his current role, he does everything he can to give back to the U.S. military and honor those who have served. He speaks with young people who are interested in serving and share his own experience. In addition to mentoring students, Chris finds countless ways to give back to veterans. He works with local military nonprofit groups to spend time with other veterans and thank them for their service and speak at their events. In 2019, Chris hosted the Packers Huddle for Heroes in Green Bay, which partnered current Packers players with local veterans groups to show appreciation for the veterans' service, listen to their stories and write letters to active-duty military members. Chris believes it is so important to take the time to listen to those who have served. He knows exactly how a simple gesture saying, "Thank you for your service," can mean the world to those who have made that sacrifice for our country. We believe that Chris' service and commitment to all who are considering serving, currently serving, or have served in the military are what make him a perfect candidate to receive the Salute to Service Award.
HOUSTON TEXANS CHEERLEADERS
The Houston Texans organization has a proud tradition of honoring those who serve, and one of our greatest ambassadors for the cause is the Houston Texans Cheerleaders. The Texans Cheerleaders have always dedicated their time and talents to honoring service members. Since the beginning, the Cheerleaders have supported causes such as the USO, Wounded Warrior Project, Operation FINALLY HOME, T.A.P.S., Tuesday's Children and many others. In 2019, the Texans Cheerleaders traveled overseas with Armed Forces Entertainment headlining the Salute to Service Super Bowl 10-day Tour that visited the Al Dahfra Air Force Base in United Arab Emirates, bases in Qatar and Camp Lemmonier, Djibouti. The tour featured the Houston Texans Cheerleaders along with four Texans Legends who performed 60-minute shows. The Cheerleaders spent what little free time they had getting to know the service members and their stories, going on base tours, going through simulation exercises, playing flag football and sitting down to listen as they spoke about their friends and families back home. Women veterans is a cause that is of particular importance to the Texans Cheerleaders. Prior to the pandemic, Texans Cheerleaders and alumni of the Texans Cheerleaders program volunteered with The W.A.V.E. Campaign, a women's veterans service organization, to package and distribute much-needed undergarments, pajamas and comfort items to women receiving treatment in the VA Hospital. Each time the military needs support, the Texans Cheerleaders are there. Last year during the pandemic when players were not doing appearances, the Cheerleaders kept playing a critical role in the organization's continued support of the military. Events included visiting the USO Center at Houston's Bush Intercontinental Airport to deliver meals to service members and volunteers, stepping up to distribute turkeys and Thanksgiving meals to 150 families at Ellington Field Joint Reserve Base, providing lunches for National Guard and Army Reserve troops coming home from the Capitol in January, and welcoming back 120 service members from a nine-month overseas deployment.
BRIAN DECKER (Director of Player Development)
Born into the military in Texas and raised in Kentucky - for Brian Decker, service was in his blood. His grandfather served in the military in the Korean War and his dad served in Vietnam. After attending community college for a year and a half, he joined the military – working his way up to Lieutenant Colonel in The Army's Special Forces, he did two tours of duty in Iraq. After graduating from Eastern Kentucky and getting his master's degree from the Naval Postgraduate School, Decker continued to serve - overseeing the talent acquisition strategy for future Green Berets. 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 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. When the Colts brought Ballard in as general manager, he brought Decker in to help with player selection and development. Decker continues to serve and give back by investing in veterans like himself and shining a spotlight on nontraditional ways to bring people in from the military and have them contribute in a valuable way. After 22 years of service, no matter where he goes - in his heart, he's always a soldier.
MYLES JACK (Linebacker)
In 2019, Myles Jack embarked on a weeklong tour to South Korea with the USO as an extension of the NFL's Salute to Service initiative. A collaborative effort between the USO and NFL, the tour was aimed to salute and honor 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 of the daily life of the men and women who defend our freedom tirelessly around the clock. Jack has also recognized the USO through the My Cause My Cleats campaign. Jack has also participated in annual Salute to Service events stateside as part of his support for the robust military community in Jacksonville. He has attended Pros vs. GI Joe, an event where the Jaguars invite 25 active-duty military members to interact with players through video game challenges. Jack participated in the Stars and Strikes bowling event to spend time with and support 200 military members and their families for a free night of bowling at Naval Station Mayport in Jacksonville. He also helps support the team's annual care package event during which staff, coaches and players put together care packages for deployed soldiers as part of the St. Michael's Soldiers non-profit mission. To further support families who have loved ones on deployment, Jack hosted a free movie night for 150-plus military families and children. This year, in collaboration with the Jaguars Foundation, Jack will host a Halloween "Trunk or Treat" for 50 military families and children to experience the joy of trick-or-treating in a fun and safe environment. Jack takes great pride in honoring the military as his great uncle, John Marshall Valrie, proudly served our country during the Vietnam War while on the USS Seattle, enlisting in the Navy at the age of 18.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
BOBBY BELL (NFL Legend)
Bobby Bell is considered by many to be the greatest outside linebacker to ever play the game. However, it is the time Bell has spent off the field with those who have protected our country that has him nominated for the 2021 Salute to Service Award. Bobby Bell initiated his support of the military during his playing days in the 1960s and early 70s. In January of 1968, Bell was part of just the third edition of the NFL's USO tour. Bell and the NFL contingent arrived in Vietnam on the same day the Tet Offensive initiated. It took the United States' General Commander in Vietnam at the time nearly 20 days to safely evacuate Bell and the other USO Tour participants. However, the uncertainty about precisely when he \ might be able to return state side did not temper his desire to visit with and share good will to the troops stationed there. After his visit to Vietnam, Bell continued to spend time with active military personnel including various good will tours to Lebanon, the Panama Canal, and more. Each time, Bell's charisma lifted spirits and created smiles on the faces of those he encountered. Following his playing days, Bell continued to engage with members of the military, including his regular travels to Whiteman Air Force Base in nearby Johnson County, MO. "One thing that has always been a priority for me is to visit with the brave men and women of the United States military. After all, I just lined up and played football. They put their lives on the line every day for us," Bell said. To the present day, Bell continues to spend his time honoring the men and women who have sacrificed for our country. "Our flag does not fly because the wind moves it. It flies with the last breath of each soldier who died protecting it," Bell continued… It is that sentiment that will forever leave a lasting impression on Chiefs Kingdom.
LAS VEGAS RAIDERS
VANCE MUELLER (Offensive Tackle)
Vance Mueller was selected by the Raiders in the 4th round of the 1986 NFL Draft. Playing for the Raiders for five seasons, Vance was a strong presence on the team and played in 73 games with five starts. Today, Vance is still a strong presence for the Raiders, especially when it comes to the military community. Most recently, Vance attended the Raiders' 2021 home opener and greeted military families who were attending the game. In 2020, Vance offered support to our military community during the unprecedented times of COVID by hosting multiple virtual engagements. Vance worked with the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) and hosted two video calls with a total of three TAPS families. Speaking one on one with TAPS families, Vance offered support and a chance for families to share their favorite Raider memories of their loved ones. Additionally, Vance recorded a personalized welcome video message for the residents of the Southern Nevada Veterans Home who were tuning into the Salute to Service game. In 2018, Vance visited with Veterans at Yountville Veterans Home in Napa, the largest veterans' home in the United States. Over the years, Vance has consistently been a source of support and strength for the military, and the Raiders are proud to have Vance as a member of the Raider family.
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS
JOE LOMBARDI (Offensive Coordinator)
Coach Joe Lombardi exemplifies the true meaning of a Salute to Service nominee. He attended the U.S. Air Force Academy and went on to serve the United States of America for four years upon graduating from the Academy. Although Coach Lombardi has only been with the Chargers for a short amount of time, he has taken the skills he learned from his years in the military and transferred them onto the field. The respect that he has earned is unmatched, not only on the field, but off the field as well. The grit, discipline, encouragement, and true compassion for others does not go unnoticed. Coach Lombardi has received recognition and been honored in the past for his service, and he will participate in several Los Angeles Chargers Salute to Service activities this season.
LOS ANGELES RAMS
ANDREW WHITWORTH (Offensive Tackle)
As soon as Andrew Whitworth 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 has purchased and donated 1,000s of 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 vets at Unbreakable performance gym in Hollywood and even represented M.V.P. during the 2017 and 2018 'My Cause My Cleats' campaign. Last year, Andrew joined M.V.P 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 our Salute to Service game. Most recently, Andrew joined Merging Vets and Players (MVP) and others including Jay Glazer, Michael Strahan, Tony Gonzalez, Dean Cain and Chamique Holdsclaw for a virtual fundraiser to raise $100,000 for veterans and athletes impacted by COVID-19.
BLAKE FERGUSON (Long Snapper)
Long Snapper Blake Ferguson's great grandfather, a WWII Navy veteran, first inspired his deep appreciation for the military. In college at Louisiana State University, Blake became best friends with Kiley Greathouse, an Air Force veteran. Since being drafted by the Miami Dolphins in the sixth round of the 2020 NFL Draft, Blake has expressed enthusiasm for all team military initiatives. Limited primarily to virtual appearances in 2020 due to COVID-19 precautions and protocols, Blake continues to be vocal on social media in his appreciation for our military service members and the sacrifices made by military families. In 2021, Blake looks forward to working closely with the Miami Dolphins the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) families and hosting his first military appreciation BBQ event for active duty and veterans in South Florida through Miami Dolphins Football Unites military partners. Blake has many family members who served in the military including both of his grandfathers (Jim Seale and Robert Ferguson), as well as his great uncle (Jerry Seale), and great grandfather (Howard Seale).
PETE BERCICH (NFL Legend)
From Kuwait to Minnesota, Minnesota Vikings Legend, Vikings Radio Network analyst, former linebacker and coach, Pete Bercich, has made numerous, authentic appreciation to service members. Bercich traveled to Kuwait to spend a week with a Minnesota-based nonprofit that provides special meals and encouragement to service members. "I was at Camp Arifjan," Bercich said. "I'm sitting there and so excited to be here and see what we see and talk to you guys and see what you do. It's just a fascination that I've had with the military for my entire life, a love and appreciation for what they do every day, what they're asked to do, what they're willing to do. I look at it this way: I have the greatest job in the world, being able to do what I do with the Vikings, and without them and the sacrifices they've made throughout centuries, I wouldn't be able to do that." Bercich's support is not deterred by blizzards or artic air. He braved the weather in fall 2020 to surprise two military families with an ultimate tailgating pack and free groceries for a year. Bercich delivered the news, spending extended periods of time with the veterans' families. Bercich instantly connected with these families because his appreciation for the service and sacrifices made by military families runs deep. "It's truly been amazing to be able to do things like this for families like theirs and hear their stories," Bercich said. "I've been a Viking for 25 years, and this is probably one of the most amazing things I've been able to do." One month — November — and one game — when the Vikings annually host their Salute to Service — stand above all others for Bercich. The changing of the guard at the seat that is permanently unoccupied to honor POW/MIA is a solemn reminder of why he's been able to live his dream. "We're here because of the sacrifices they've made," Bercich said.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
JOE CARDONA (Long Snapper)
Joe Cardona attended the Naval Academy for four years prior to his 2015 rookie season where he was an Ensign in the Navy and worked as a staff officer at the Naval Academy Preparatory School in Rhode Island. That 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 and served as a junior commissioned officer in the United States Navy and in 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. Joe has facilitated more than a dozen re-enlistment and retirement ceremonies at Gillette Stadium for fellow military members. He also led a handful of free football clinics for military children at military bases across New England and replaced military family toys that were burned in a fire three years ago at Joint Base Cape Cod. In 2017, Joe rallied teammates and coaches to each donate a pair of tickets to their game against Atlanta and over 150 military members, who had recently returned from deployment, were invited to the game and participated 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 honor the brave men and women from Massachusetts that have lost their lives defending our country. Joe also offers his support to the Travis Manion Foundation, a nonprofit that empowers veterans and families of fallen heroes to develop character in future generations.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
DEMARIO DAVIS (Linebacker)
New Orleans Saints linebacker, Demario Davis, comes from a family with extensive military service and respect for its importance. His father Steven Davis is a veteran of 31 years in the U.S. Army, special forces member and six-time combat veteran. Davis has participated in events during his playing career to provide moral support for military members. Even when he was a member of the New York Jets, he and a teammate served as opposing coaches for an eight-on-eight flag football game. Given Davis' firsthand knowledge of the experience of having a family member who serves in the military, he understands that these individuals are often away from home. As a result, he often works with children of active military through his Devoted Dreamers Foundation, which in addition to a seven-on-seven football team, also specializes in teaching young men and women important life skills. This past spring, Davis, along with four other active NFL stars, participated in an episode of Family Feud against a group of NFL legends that aired in August. As part of defeating the legends, Davis and his teammates' winnings were donated to the Fisher House Foundation, a nonprofit that builds comfort homes located at military and VA medical centers where military and veteran families can stay free of charge, while a loved one is in the hospital. He is a co-founder of the S.H.I.E.L.D I foundation, which he works with to build underserved communities from the ground up, including New Orleans, by focusing on setting them up for long-term sustainability. Davis has a long-term vision to provide US Military veterans with services including long term health and disability insurance, financial assistance, mental health services, professional development, counseling, and financial literacy. "I think Celebrities and athletes get looked up to all the time, but our military are among the real heroes in our nation," said Davis. These are the people who should be celebrated as heroes in our country, who constantly lay their lives on the line for us to enjoy our freedom. We wouldn't be able to live the lives we do if it wasn't for what they do every day."
NEW YORK GIANTS
EMLEN TUNNELL (NFL Legend)
Emlen Tunnell was the first African American inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. What some might not know about Tunnell is that he also served several years in the US Coast Guard. Following his time in the Coast Guard, he joined the Giants in 1948, becoming the first African American player to be signed and play for the Giants. The Hall of Fame defensive back went on to play 11 seasons with the Giants. The Associated Press' Pat Eaton-Robb wrote about Tunnell's time with the Coast Guard: [Not much was known about his Coast Guard service until 2008, when Cmdr. Bill McKinstry recognized Tunnell's name on the back of a photograph showing a Coast Guard basketball team from the late 1940s. His research uncovered a remarkable service career that Tunnell, who had been a steward's mate, had downplayed. In April 1944, Tunnell was unloading fuel and explosives from a cargo ship in Papua New Guinea when it was hit by a Japanese torpedo. Tunnell used his bare hands to beat out flames that had engulfed a shipmate, suffering burns in the process. Two years later, while stationed in Newfoundland, Tunnell jumped into 32-degree Fahrenheit water to save another man who had fallen from the USS Tampa. Given the context of what a Black steward's mate was expected or even allowed to do during that time in American history — largely restricted to duties like keeping the dishes on the ship clean — his accomplishments are all the more remarkable, McKinstry said. "If you look at the pictures of him in uniform, he is the one African American in a sea of other people," McKinstry said. "It is so important that we take a look at these trailblazers, just like Mr. Tunnell and we honor them, because of all things they faced in laying the groundwork for where we are today in making a better future."] In addition to his 14-year playing career, Tunnell also served as an assistant coach and scout with the Giants and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1967.
NEW YORK JETS
HARRISON BERSTEIN (Club Staff Alumni)
Harrison Bernstein founded Soldiers To Sidelines and has served as Executive Director since May 2014. Soldiers To Sidelines (STS) began as a project to help Service Members, Veterans, and Military Spouses discover a renewed sense of purpose as character-based sports coaches in their communities. Harrison was able to attract advisors to help steward the mission, and since 2018 the board has grown to over 21 leaders across various industries. Additionally, STS has built a staff of 12 employees and certified over 550 Soldier Coaches nationwide. 88% of STS Coaches are currently coaching, and 91% report having a greater sense of well-being because they coach others. To date, STS Coaches have positively influenced 27,000 athletes. Much of the growth has been attributed to Harrison developing partners and sponsors such as USO, Wounded Warrior Project, the New York Jets, and others. Harrison recently authored a book called The Everyday Coach: Harnessing the Magic of Influence. Harrison also hosts a podcast called Harrison Bernstein's Everyday Coach, which highlights leadership lessons learned from military heroes, business executives, and coaches to steward the craft of coaching. Harrison has held several coaching roles in the NFL in addition to working as a coach and teacher at the collegiate and high school levels. From 2015 to 2019, STS was a functioning Non-Profit organization but operated on a smaller scale while Harrison continued coaching in the NFL. Jets Leadership learned about the STS mission and witnessed the impact it had on Veterans and the football community. The Jets funded the first in-person STS Football Coaching Certification Seminar during the NFL Salute To Service week in 2019. The seminar certified 40 Veterans as football Soldier Coaches and culminated with a Salute To Service gameday experience. In response to Covid-19, the Jets bolstered their commitment to Veterans by sponsoring the first Virtual STS Football Coaching Seminar. From the continued support of the Jets, STS has been able to inspire more Veterans through this new virtual platform and has served as a catalyst to accelerate growth and impact. This partnership between the Jets and STS paved the way in 2021 for an incredible Salute To Service week of football coaching for Service Members, Veterans, and Military Spouses.
CHRIS SHARKOSKI (Director of Event Operations – Club Staff)
As the Director of Event Operations, Chris Sharkoski oversees the logistical, planning and execution aspects of all the events that take place at Lincoln Financial Field and the NovaCare Complex. Chris and the Event Operations team work with a wide array of events that range from small reception style functions and trade shows to football games, concerts, and soccer matches. He has been involved as the primary operational contact with the Army Navy Game since the first time it was played at Lincoln Financial Field back in 2003. He sits on the Army Navy Game Steering Committee and works alongside the City of Philadelphia and the academies to ensure that all the operational details are addressed and that the game is smooth behind the scenes. In 2010 both the Army and Navy Academies thanked Chris by presenting a display of two officer swords (one from each academy) at the game's media luncheon.
JON KOLB (NFL Legend)
Jon Kolb founded Adventures in Training with a Purpose (ATP) to confront health and movement related issues in vulnerable populations who no longer have the benefit of paid rehabilitation. Through this non-profit, Jon and his staff work with children and adults, with purposeful physical training to improve their quality of life. ATP focuses on training veterans, active-duty military, and first responders to reach their peak performance through a mind, body, and soul regimen. Jon joined the Army National Guard as a Steelers rookie in 1969 and truly has a heart for veterans. ATP is dedicated to improving the lives of these men and women through purposeful physical training, to empower veterans with the freedom to move and perform tasks of daily living without the need of assistance. Active-duty military and veterans make up 53 percent of ATP's clients and are served free of charge at one of three locations – Pittsburgh, Hermitage, Pennsylvania and Youngstown, Ohio. At the Youngstown location, 95 percent of those they serve are veterans. The ATP staff custom tailors a plan for each person. ATP combines physical wellness with adventure and functional training takes place three days a week with an "adventure" day on the fourth. Many active-duty military and veterans impacted by trauma and the compounding stress of service may experience anxiety, depression, and even thoughts of suicide. To address the mental health aspect, ATP partners with an organization that is a community-based comprehensive restorative health program specializing in the treatment of veterans, military service members, and first responders dealing with traumatic stress, depression, anxiety, traumatic brain injury and pain. Jon speaks with pride and admiration for the clients with whom he works. Some of the clients Jon has impacted is a female combat vet who served as an IT specialist has enjoyed her experience at ATP and it led her to start learning physiology with a possibility of going back to school. Another client of Jon's is an 86-year-old veteran who didn't walk regularly for more than 50 years is now able to walk with assistance. Another veteran who was wheelchair-bound for 13 years as the result of a service injury can now walk with parallel bars. One of Jon's goals through his organization is to give people independence and confidence in their abilities. Jon Kolb has cultivated changing lives for the better through his organization, ATP.
NINO GRAY (Community Engagement Manager – Club Staff)
Nino Gray is in his third season managing Seattle Seahawks military engagement programs. He served in the U.S. Army Infantry for 7 years before receiving an honorable discharge after suffering an injury. Following his military service, Nino worked for the Wounded Warrior Project and TriWest Healthcare Alliance. In both organizations he served veterans facing PTSD issues, bringing hope to hundreds. He has carried that same dedication into his role with the Seahawks. Nino represents the best in terms of the NFL's commitment to "Honor, Empower and Connect" service members, veterans, and their families. He has built & maintained relationships with local military bases, creating opportunities for military personnel to engage with the team through various unique experiences. His research into veteran service organizations led to him founding a partnership named "Task Force 12." Those 12 organizations assist veterans with finding employment, food, homes, service dogs, and counseling. By connecting these organizations, they realized they share the goal of reestablishing the sense of a shared mission that many military personnel have been missing. Together, the Seahawks and Task Force 12 have worked on supply drops, playground builds, job fairs and mental health summits. Nino worked to facilitate over $500,000 in grants for these nonprofits. He has arranged for our 2021 Salute to Service game to feature 100+ women service members and veterans. He is an active member of the local chapter of "Merging Veterans & Players" (MVP) which unites NFL alumni and veteran service members. By introducing MVP to the community, their vital dialogue is empowering the lives of military service personnel and athletes. Nino is a soldier who nearly lost his life when his Stryker was destroyed by a 400 lb. IED. He suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury, and severe leg injuries. That experience along with his resilience and imagination have made Nino the perfect individual to lead our military programs. We are proud to nominate Nino Gray for this award as the Seahawks and the NFL show gratitude for the service of our military personnel.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
GEORGE KITTLE (Tight End)
Aside from breaking franchise records, Kittle has proven to be an exceptional leader as demonstrated by his recognition as the 49ers 2019 Len Eshmont Award recipient, voted on by his teammates and given to the player who exemplifies the inspirational play of 49ers alum Len Eshmont. Along with his dedication to professional football, Kittle has been a long standing supporter of the United States military. As someone who has loved ones in the Armed Forces, including his Uncle Pat and Grandfather Carl, Kittle has been passionate about supporting our country's military by dedicating his time and resources to hundreds of active duty members, veterans, and their families since he entered the league in 2017. "I love the United States of America, and I know that we wouldn't be able to do all the things that we do as just everyday American citizens without our military, and all the things they've done past and present," Kittle said. While the team has a strong relationship with the military community and has coordinated countless military appreciation events, Kittle has gone out of his way to surprise and delight service members and their families on his own time. Kittle has built a strong relationship with the Tragedy Assistance Program For Survivors (TAPS) after first being introduced to them after the 2018 Pro Bowl. With the TAPS families, Kittle participated in a woodworking project, making American flags as a memento of the experience. In episode nine of "Hidden Pearls Podcast'', an audio series by his family, the Kittles reunited with the TAPS family from that woodworking project to amplify the organization's work. Since then, he's connected with many other TAPS families - such as the LaMar family who he highlighted during My Cause My Cleats by having them painted on his cleats in 2020, and most recently in August 2021 when Kittle hosted a group of 20 young adult survivors to watch training camp practice for one of their first social experiences since the start of the pandemic. Whether he is shaking every single service member's hand as they stand to order on the goal line at the Salute to Service game or helping make everlasting memories for military families through special surprises and visits, Kittle demonstrates his unwavering devotion for the U.S. Armed Forces during any opportunity possible.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
RYAN JENSEN (Center)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers center Ryan Jensen has established himself as a leader on the Buccaneers offensive line. Off the field, Jensen has made Salute to Service efforts a priority through everyday relationships, outreach programs and gameday initiatives. Jensen's grandfather served in Vietnam and Korea as a member of the Army's 101st Airborne Division. Jensen's uncle followed his footsteps into the Army, and Jensen's adopted brother, has served in the Marine Corps – having completed tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. Given these ties, it's no surprise that in 2014, Jensen made a special bond with a five-year-old boy named Cooper who took a liking to Jensen for their shared bushy red hair. When Jensen learned that Cooper was also the product of a military family, and that his father was tragically killed in action before Cooper was born, it sparked a deeper connection. Through the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), Jensen has stayed in contact with the family. For the past several years, Jensen has honored Cooper and TAPS through the NFL's annual My Cause, My Cleats initiative, and as the young boy provides added perspective to Jensen as he raises a family of his own, he plans to continue to bring greater awareness and support to Gold Star Families who are grieving the loss of a member of the armed forces. Annually, Jensen has supported the Buccaneers' Schwarzkopf Military Family of the Year Awards, which honors military families from each branch of the armed forces. He has also visited MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa through the USO Central Florida, has helped promote fundraising efforts for the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, and helps lead the team's support for Military Day at Training Camp. For all Buccaneers home games, Jensen ensures that local military families enjoy a special gameday experience. He has donated nearly $30,000 to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Foundation for his community ticket program "Jensen's G.I. Joes" where a variety of military organizations receive this memorable opportunity. Benefitting organizations have included the USF Veteran Success Center, Wounded Warrior Project, Special Operations Warrior Foundation, Liberty Manor for Veterans and the Jackson in Action 83 Foundation, among others. As the NFL center gains new perspective with each act of service, he hopes to inspire 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 men and women who are needing it," Jensen said. "I hope it sparks a passion for him to find something that he wants to make better."
JOHN WILLIAMS (Stadium Operations Manager – Club Staff)
John L. Williams Jr. is currently the Stadium Operations Manager for the Tennessee Titans. John honorably served in the U.S. Army for 21 years (1997-2018) and retired at the rank of Master Sergeant. While transitioning out of the Military, he was selected to participate in the first ever FedEx, Tennessee Titans and USO Pathfinder program fellowship. The fellowship lasted 12 weeks and after completion, John was hired as a full-time employee with the Tennessee Titans as a Stadium Events Operations Assistant. Six months later he was promoted to Stadium Operations Manager. He has been with the Club for 4 seasons. John's list of deployments includes Bosnia, Iraq (3 tours) and Afghanistan (2 tours). His last duty station was in the 101st Airborne Division Air Assault Unit at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. He has been stationed for duty at six different U.S. Military installations throughout the world during his distinguished career of service to his country (Korea, Germany, Washington, Georgia, Kentucky, New Jersey) John is a decorated military veteran whose badges, decorations and medals include: Bronze Star; Army Commendation Medal (6 awards); Army Achievement Medal (6 awards); Presidential Unit Citation; Army Good Conduct Medal (7 awards); National Defense Service Medal; Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal; Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal; Iraqi Campaign Medal (3 Stars); Afghanistan Campaign Medal (2 Stars); Global War on Terrorism Service Medal; NATO Medal; Combat Action Badge; Aircraft Crewman Senior Badge; Drivers and Mechanic Badge; Professional Development Ribbon (3 awards); Army Service Ribbon; Overseas Service Ribbon. He has served as an Armor Crewman (19K) and a Flight Operations Specialist (15P) throughout his career and holds a bachelor's degree in Sports Management from American Military University.
WASHINGTON FOOTBALL TEAM
RON RIVERA (Head Coach)
Since his arrival in our Nation's Capital in January 2020, Head Coach Ron Rivera has led the Washington Football Team through unimaginable adversity on-and-off the field. From a complete organizational rebuild in the face of a national pandemic to his personal battle with cancer last season, Coach Rivera persevered and overcame every obstacle in front of him to capture Washington's first NFC East Conference Championship since 2015. Through every hardship, Coach Rivera accredited his success in the face of adversity to his military upbringing and the values instilled in him growing up the son of a 32-year-career Commissioned Officer of the United States Army, Eugenio Rivera. Rivera has spent the entirety of his 10-year career as a Head Coach giving back to a military community that has defined his success as a leader in the league. This year, however, was especially important to him in being advocate and supporting local families, as many of his new team captains were also children of Commissioned Officers including the likes of Chase Young and Jonathan Allen. In light of COVID-19, Rivera spent his first season with the team designating a few hours each month participating in virtual events empowering local military organizations and connecting with local service members including Q&A's with Blue Star Families, Virtual Visits with Walter Reed National Military Medical Center Patients, and Surprising Local ROTC Students with Full Ride Scholarships. In pursuit of further support and alignment with local military charities, his contributions have grown substantially from helping raise $2.5K for USO of Metropolitan Washington-Baltimore in team's military club My Cause My Cleats initiative to joining Pepsi in surprising the Children of Fallen Patriots Scholarship Foundation with a $10K contribution. Rivera has vowed more support, engagement, and connection with local installations (hints of engagement in store have been shown at Washington's Military Appreciation Day at Training Camp, Preseason Practice on Joint Base Andrews, and recent visits to the 9/11 Memorial at the Pentagon).