***image1***“These people are unbelievable,” said Atlanta Falcons running back Warrick Dunn. “To still have a positive attitude after what they have been through is incredible.”
When three players and the commissioner from the National Football League came to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center and the 435th Contingency Aeromedical Staging Facility at Ramstein, May 8 to visit troops and patients, it was they who left feeling inspired.
“It makes you start trying to picture what they went through and how fortunate they are to still be alive,” said Dunn. “If you never thought it was real, you know, watching the war on television, well, to come here and see these patients – it’s real.”
The visit was coordinated by NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, United Service Organ-izations Europe Vice-President, Gail Camillo and USO Kaiser-slautern.
Players selected were those who embodied the spirit of community service. All three of them have their own charitable foundations, said Tagliabue.
“We just felt it was really important to support the men and women in the military,” said Tagliabue. “We’ve been here at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center before. These types of visits are something we try to do each year. Last year we had players at Baghdad International Airport.”
“It’s really an honor to be put in this situation,” said Atlanta Falcons linebacker Keith Brookings. “When the NFL approached me to come here, I didn’t think twice. I just jumped on it. To be able to look these Soldiers in the eye and tell them how appreciative I am is an honor. Words can’t express the feeling it gives me.”
On this day, words were sometimes hard to come by.
“It’s kind of overwhelming,” said Baltimore Ravens tight end Todd Heap. “It’s hard to put how I feel into words, really. Coming here to visit these men and women is the least we can do, but it’s really special to me. I appreciated what they did before, but now it has a whole new meaning.”
The players and commissioner visited several patient wards where they distributed team hats, pins, signed pictures and calling cards. They also visited the Intensive Care Unit, which obviously touched them.
When a surgeon told them that the first words out of an injured Soldier’s mouth usually was “How’s my buddy?” or “I just want to get back to the action,” and that it’s similar to the attitude displayed by players in the NFL, Brooking shook his head and quickly said, “It’s not even close to the same thing.”
In the NFL, there are plenty of war analogies thrown around. It’s going to be war out there today. There’s going to be a battle in the trenches.
“After seeing something like this, I doubt I’ll ever make a comment like that again,” said Brookings.
This visit was especially poignant following the Pat Tillman situation, which saw the NFL player turned Army Ranger killed in Afghanistan. Heap, who met Tillman at a charity bowling event, said Tillman was indeed a character.
“You had to know Pat,” said Heap. “His morals and commitment. He didn’t care what others thought. You could tell he really had a purpose. There was a reason behind it, and he obviously believed in it. Just like the wounded Soldiers we visited today.”