Story by William Selby, Defense Media Activity
While being in the military means sacrificing your time and so much more, every once in a while you are fortunate enough to be recognized for the service and sacrifice you’ve made in the name of American freedom.
Aug. 23 was one of those days for 45 service members representing the Air Force, Army, Marines, Navy and Coast Guard.
The National Football League’s Washington Redskins honored those 45 service members during the “Welcome Home Luncheon,” at the Gaylord Convention Center in Washington, D.C.
Nominated by their commands, the guests of honor started out in a V.I.P. area where they were able to rub elbows with some of the Redskins alumni and get a few autographs.
“It’s a great opportunity to come here,” said Air Force Master Sgt. Tram Pham, a first sergeant assigned to the security forces squadron based at Joint Base Andrews, Va. “I’m not a Redskins fan, but I love football. I appreciate being asked to come, too. It’s always nice to be recognized.”
That seemed to be a theme among many in attendance. Of all the service members I spoke with, only one was a Skins fan; she’s a Coast Guard master chief who has followed the team all her life.
Master Chief Rhonda Killmon, a 48 year-old assignment officer for reserve personnel, said she was “in the right place at the right time” to be chosen to attend the event and she couldn’t be happier. Killmon said she even had trouble sleeping the past few nights since learning of the opportunity due to her excitement.
After the V.I.P. session with the Redskins alumni, the service members were ushered in for photos with current Redskins players including Robert Griffin III, London Fletcher, Eric Kettani (who also happens to be a reserve Naval officer), Josh Morgan and Kai Forbath.
One thing you couldn’t help but notice as they were taken from room to room is how professionally and proudly they carried themselves. It’s no wonder they were chosen by their fellow service members to attend the event.
Once the photo session ended, the luncheon began and one player was seated at each service member’s table.
It was quite a surreal experience to see these humble men and women surrounded by fans who were clamoring for pictures and autographs from the players. Surreal because here you have 45 true heroes, yet the people want autographs from the NFL players while the players want to honor and respect the service members. Quite the paradox, isn’t it?
I was fortunate enough to be given a seat for lunch as well (that doesn’t always happen) and had the good fortune to sit next to Fred Davis, the Redskins starting tight end. He echoed my thoughts on the event and the paradox in the room.
As lunch got underway, Rick “Doc” Walker, a Redskins alum turned radio personality and master of ceremonies for the event, made sure the service members were the given the respect they were due. Walker asked the audience not to solicit autographs or photos with players or coaches during the event but when it was noticed that a service member took a photo with head coach Mike Shanahan during this announcement, Walker emphatically pointed out, “These are our service members. We will make special exceptions for them.”
His simple statement seamlessly captured the essence of the event. After all, service members sacrifice quite a bit for our freedom. Without their service, watching NFL games on TV might not be a privilege American citizens could enjoy. It’s only right to try and repay them for that freedom and honor them as the heroes that they are.
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