He heard the impact of improvised explosive devices, now he hears the explosion of a crowd’s cheers. Instead of commanding officers shouting orders, it’s now teammates calling audibles. He no longer wears a Kevlar helmet, trading it in for a football helmet.
Whether it is the U.S. Army or the NFL, Alejandro Villanueva has always been a part of a team. He’s currently with the Pittsburgh Steelers, but he knows he’ll always be a soldier. And part of being a soldier is upholding the Army values of selfless service and duty.
Villanueva, one of the Steelers offensive linemen, spent three days in the Kaiserslautern Military Community hosting autograph sessions and football camps for both youth and adults.
“I do this in the states but I felt like coming out here to Europe where I played high school football and to a location that means so much to all the service members who come back,” said Villanueva. “Obviously I owe a lot to these (service members) and their families as well.”
During the camps, number 78 taught football fundamentals to both the young and the young-at-heart. He tied those fundamentals to being a service member.
“Training for the military, everything you do, you do with your team,” said Villanueva. “You do it with your guys. In the NFL it’s a little bit lonelier because you’re competing with everybody around you, so you don’t really get that same team feel.”
Villanueva, a Meridian, Mississippi, native, challenged his camp attendees to practice perfection in regards to both fields, football and combat.
“The more you rehearse an operation, battle drills, briefing, the more comfortable you’re going to feel,” he said. “And when you go out on the field it feels second nature. You can talk about football in the same sense. The more you rehearse the same play and focus on the details then when you go out on the field you can execute on the highest levels.”
He continued, adding that while perfection may be statistically improbable, the pursuit of it is what truly matters.
“You know you’re always going to be making mistakes,” said the former Army captain. “But always having the relentless attitude to fix everything is going to make you a better player, a better soldier, and a better family member.”
Attendees of the camps expressed their gratitude to Villanueva for visiting and hosting the camps, who in return thanked them for what they do.
“I’m always shaking service member’s hands and thanking them for their service,” he said. “You always have to remember that they have families because it’s very difficult for the families to be out here as well. To be away from their mothers and fathers, to maybe have to go around every single year and meet other kids all the time. For their sacrifice, anything I can do feels good and if it does help the service member…by all means it’s something that makes me feel pretty good.”