On Tuesday Nov. 8, The Washington Redskins and USAA, Official Military Appreciation Sponsor, hosted a unit interaction held at Joint Base Fort Myer. Members of the Washington Redskins experienced daily responsibilities of servicemen and interacted with current and former United States military in a memorable visit to the Arlington National Cemetery and Joint Base Fort Myer.
Redskins players attended Fort Myer where they visted working military units stationed on the base. The purpose of the event is to educate NFL players about what the military does on a base on a day to day basis.
Defensive lineman Anthony Lanier II and Ziggy Hood, along with offensive lineman Arie Kouandijo and cornerback Kendall Fuller spent more than three hours learning and talking with members of The Old Guard as part of the USAA Redskins Salute to Service Event. The players started with a tour through parts of the massive Arlington National Cemetery before moving to the historic Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. There, the players joined a gathering of a couple hundred people to observe the Changing of the Guard.
"It's more of a respect thing because I do have people I know who used to be in the military," Lanier said. "My grandfather actually fought in the Korean War. I've always had a very high respect for the military. I was basically just honored to be in that type of place because a lot of family hasn't been able to see stuff like that."
Following the Changing of the Guard, the players were led to the quarters of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, where they were briefed on the history of the tomb. Even for four NFL players that have put in the amount of work they have, each player was stunned at the rigor of a tomb guard's education and schedule. Between 80 and 90 percent of the soldiers that go through the education process ends up failing to become a guard. However, the ones that do pass the numerous necessary tests end up working 90-hour work weeks as a guard of the tomb.
The players took such a large interest in the tomb, each plyer listened intently and asked questions as the story was told.
"The Tomb of the Unknown is essentially the representative of all of the unknowns," said Colonel Jason Garkey, the 81st Regimental Commander of The Old Guard. "For a lot of people, they've lost family members, they have a little bit of hope that it's possible that could be their family member. It represents the lost and fallen. It's significant for our country.
"When people see that and understand the importance, they realize that it's uniquely American to honor our veterans in such a way."
Then it was on to the stables of Fort Myer as the group traveled the Caisson Platoon, where a group of 10 soldiers and 60 horses are housed. Each day a team of seven horses and four riders take part in funerals by holding the colors of the service of deceased servicemen and carrying the caisson to the cemetery. The players and the horses provided for plenty of photos and laughs as numerous servicemen streamed in to get autographs from the players.
"If anything it was the other way around," Hood said of the servicemen excitement of seeing the players. "We don't get too many opportunities like this – to be around something that's bigger than us. Their sacrifice, their hard work is way, way more important than what we do on the field. All we do is play a game and try to bring smiles to people's faces when we're on the field. What they do, to make sure we have that smile every day, and give us the opportunity to go out there and play that game. Just to have this opportunity to come out here, it's been an honor and it's been a pleasure to come out here and see something like this."
The Redskins finished their day by visiting the military working dog (MWD) kennels . The players roared with approval as the unit put on a show with the dogs,showing off their training. Again, there were plenty of autographs and pictures, all of which were happily done by the players on hand.
"The players coming here today have been very graceful," Garkey said. "They've signed a lot of autographs. There's a lot of Redskins fans here. Getting the opportunity to interact with people they may only see on the TV screen is really a great event. It's just nice to be appreciated. The soldiers have really enjoyed the fact they've been deal with the players."