Leaders at NFL training camp highlight appreciation for military duty

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Scott T. Sturkol
  • U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center Public Affairs
It was my first time seeing a National Football League team in a training camp venue. For being nearly 40 years old and an avid fan of the NFL, I thought for sure that day would have been sooner but at least it finally happened.

On Aug. 5, along with seven other Airmen from the U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center here, I ventured out to Lehigh University in Lehigh, Penn., to participate in Military Day at the Philadelphia Eagles training camp. When we got there, we noticed we were among 200 other military members in attendance from all branches of service, including about another 40 Airmen from McGuire Air Force Base, N.J. I could see this was going to be an interesting day.

The festivities opened with a continental breakfast then words from a team marketing person and the "official voice of the Eagles" - play-by-play announcer Mr. Merrill Reese. Mr. Reese talked mostly about the upcoming season, but added, "We do appreciate all that you do for our country." In Philadelphia, Mr. Reese is considered a legend in broadcasting so hearing that from him meant a lot. But there was more to the day than I expected.

In addition to the breakfast and the kind words about the military, the Eagles organization provided a 2008 team yearbook, T-shirt and camouflaged Eagles ball cap for all in attendance. Plus, inside the bag in which they provided these items, they also provided a pen for autographs. That told me there was a chance to meet the players and staff.

Not long after 10:30 a.m., after about an hour and a half of watching the team go through their morning practice on a fairly hot and humid morning, security personnel lined us all up and marched us out to the practice field. When the practice concluded, Eagles Head Coach Andy Reid asked all the military people lining the sidelines to come closer and surround the players and staff on the field.

The first person Coach Reid asked to stand by him to talk to the team was my friend and co-worker, Tech. Sgt. William Lipsett of the USAF EC's 421st Combat Training Squadron. Sergeant Lipsett looked and was absolutely speechless. As he noted to me later, it was a moment he'll "never forget."

Coach Reid reiterated was Mr. Reese had said earlier about appreciating the military and what they mean to him and to many of his players. I remember taking a photo and thinking this was rare occurrence for any person. For Sergeant Lipsett, I could see he was like a kid in a candy store. He loved the moment. And so were the rest of us.

After Coach Reid finished talking, the entire group got together and did a team chant of "E-A-G-L-E-S - Eagles!" In other words, they were saying we were all one team. Then everyone spread out and met one-on-one with the players and staff, and had many, many things autographed.

Of all the people I met and talked with, two really stood out for me - Coach Reid and wide receiver Hank Baskett.

Coach Reid has a busy job managing game planning, players and staff in a city that demands a lot of its NFL franchise. Plus, I noticed he was wearing his Super Bowl ring from when he was an assistant coach with the Green Bay Packers (my favorite team) when they won Super Bowl XXXI in 1997. He showed the ring, answered my questions and even knew where my tiny hometown was in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. It was quite flattering to know somebody like him was familiar with my small part of the world. All that said, when you talked to him, you could truly see he meant everything he said about appreciation for the military.

With Hank Baskett, the connection with the military and the Air Force goes noticeably a lot deeper. Besides being a talented receiver who I personally saw haul in some monster catches at practice, he is the son of a 30-year Air Force veteran, retired Chief Master Sgt. Henry Baskett Jr. 

I first met Hank Baskett III at the new USO lounge at Philadelphia International Airport during Air Force Week in June. Surprisingly, he remembered me and asked how my son was doing for whom he signed an autograph the first time we met. He asked, "How's Jackson?", and said, "Thanks for what you do."

What I admire about Hank (he doesn't want to be called Mr. Baskett because he says, "That's what they call my dad."), is that he is willing to go the extra mile and do what he can to appreciate those who defend our nation's freedom.

Hank's appreciation for the military can be summed up in what he said in a news story in the Philadelphia Eagles Web Site. He said, "They don't believe it when I tell them I'm just as big a fan of them as they are of me. When I was growing up, they were the heroes, and they still are."

I think I speak for all those who attended when I say that it was a great time and the effort was honestly appreciated. When you get past the media hype of professional sports and the day-to-day grind of military duty, this event boiled down to people talking to people. While two different worlds, I think the day ended with everyone feeling a little more appreciative of the other. All I know is I was glad to be a part of it all.