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Navy Reserve LT and New England Patriot Joe Cardona named NFL’s Salute to Service winner

Upon his graduation from the Naval Academy, Lieutenant Joe Cardona has continued to serve his country while also playing in the NFL. Cardona goes above and beyond.
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FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - NOVEMBER 06: Joe Cardona #49 of the New England Patriots looks on during the national anthem prior to playing the Indianapolis Colts at Gillette Stadium on November 06, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)

The NFL and USAA, an official NFL Salute to Service Partner, named Joe Cardona, long snapper for the New England Patriots, as the recipient of the 2023 Salute to Service Award presented by USAA. The award recognizes the exceptional efforts by members of the NFL family to honor and support the military community.

Cardona will be recognized at NFL Honors, a primetime awards special to air nationally on the CBS Television Network and NFL Network, and stream on Paramount+ and NFL+ on Thursday, Feb. 8 at the Resorts World Theatre in Las Vegas. USAA, a leading provider of insurance, banking and other financial services to U.S. military members, veterans and their families, will contribute $25,000 in Cardona’s honor to the official aid societies representing each of the military branches. The NFL Foundation will match USAA’s donation of $25,000, which will be donated to Cardona’s military charity of choice.

“Joe Cardona represents the epitome of the NFL’s Salute to Service Award,” said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. “His commitment to honoring, empowering, and connecting with the military community as an active service member, while also dedicated to his Patriots teammates, truly sets him apart. He is the true embodiment of what it means to be an American hero. The entire NFL family salutes Joe for his service to our country and congratulates him as the recipient of this important award.”

(January 06, 2024) New England Patriots Player and Navy Reserve Lt. Joe Cardona poses for a portrait in front of USS Constitution at the Charlestown Navy Yard. Cardona attended Naval Academy Preparatory School (NAPS) and graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy, before going on to play football as a long snapper for the New England Patriots. (U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Raymond Minami/Released)

“Upon his graduation from the Naval Academy, Lieutenant Joe Cardona has continued to serve his country while also playing in the NFL, and we are honored to name him the recipient of this year’s Salute to Service Award presented by USAA,” said Major General (Ret.) Bob Whittle, USAA Senior Vice President and Chief of Staff. “USAA salutes Lieutenant Cardona for his continued service to our country as well as his exemplary commitment to honoring and supporting his fellow service members, veterans, and their families.”

Cardona exemplifies a spirit of unwavering dedication in his support for America’s military community. His journey began at the United States Naval Academy as a football player, but his aspirations extended far beyond the field. During his rookie season with the Patriots, Cardona displayed exceptional dedication by balancing a second full-time job in the Navy serving as a staff officer at the Naval Academy Preparatory School in Rhode Island. His hard work and commitment were recognized in 2017 when he was promoted to lieutenant junior grade (LTJG), subsequently serving in US Forces Korea, supporting the on-going effort on the Korean Peninsula. In 2019, Joe’s dedication culminated in his promotion to the rank of lieutenant in the Navy. Currently, as a department head of Maritime Security Squadron 8, headquartered in Newport, RI, Joe oversees the logistical needs of 500 sailors across the eastern seaboard.

Throughout his nine seasons in the NFL, Cardona has consistently engaged in initiatives aimed at celebrating and honoring active-duty service members and veterans. He has donated items to help military families impacted by natural disasters and led free football clinics for military children at bases across New England. Cardona recently joined the board of the Military Family Advisory Network, a nonprofit organization that provides vital support to military families facing hardships. Additionally, Joe has partnered with the New England Center and Home for Veterans, an organization that looks to serve our nation’s most at risk veterans, providing shelter, medical care, occupational services and much more. In 2018, Joe Cardona was honored with the Patriots Ron Burton Community Service Award, an accolade given to honor his work in the community.

Feb. 14, 2017: Ensign Joe Cardona (left), reserve supply officer and longsnapper for the New England Patriots, stands with Staff Sgt. Nathaniel Heyward, canvassing recruiter with Recruiting Substation Framingham, Massachusetts, following Heyward’s re-enlistment given by Cardona at the Patriot’s Trophy Room at Gillette Stadium, Feb. 14. As a service member and NFL player, Cardona speaks to attempting to help out his fellow servicemen and women whenever he can and likes using his dual positions to give others in uniform unique experiences.

Cardona’s support extends to organizations like the Travis Manion Foundation, dedicated to empowering veterans and families of fallen heroes and events like the Brothers of Life that brings together Americans and Israeli wounded soldiers. As a service member, Joe has presided over more than a dozen re-enlistment and retirement ceremonies at Gillette Stadium, even donning his own uniform to lead some proceedings. In every aspect of his life, Joe Cardona exemplifies what it means to make a meaningful difference both on and off the field, embodying the values of service, sacrifice, and community.

“It is a tremendous honor to receive the NFL Salute to Service Award. I am thankful to the New England Patriots organization for accommodating my military service and I hope to be a model for future players who wish to serve,” said Joe Cardona. “I appreciate the partnership between the NFL and our military and the role I have been able to play in it. On the field, I hope to represent the fighting spirit of our veterans, as well as my brothers and sisters in arms whom I serve alongside today. I am proud to be the son of Patrick Cardona, a 24-year Navy veteran, and Margeret Cardona, who embodies the strength and selflessness of a military spouse. I am proud to be an Officer in the United States Navy and player in the NFL; with or without recognition I will continue to do my job.”

New England Patriots Player and Navy Reserve Lt. Joe Cardona answers questions from local media during the Patriots Alumni football clinic at Nimitz Field Apr. 12, 2023. Cardona attended Naval Academy Preparatory School (NAPS) before going on to play football and graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy. Cardona was one of a dozen Patriots Alumni players and coaches who put on the clinic in celebration of Month of the Military Child. More than 150 children of military service members turned out for the two-hour event.

Returning this year, fans helped choose the three finalists, determined by a consensus fan vote, an NFL internal committee and USAA. Nominees were evaluated on the positive effect of their efforts on the military community, the type of service conducted, the thoroughness of their support and level of commitment. This year’s other finalists included Green Bay Packers running back Aaron Jones and San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle.

The panel of judges, consisting of representatives from the U.S. military community, the NFL and USAA, who helped determine the Salute to Service Award recipient this year included Chad Hennings, Air Force Academy graduate and three-time Super Bowl champion; Jim Mora, Sr., Marine Corps veteran and former NFL head coach; Lenny Bandy, U.S. Marine Corps veteran and NFL Vice President of Security; Major General (Ret.) Robert Whittle, USAA Senior Vice President and Chief of Staff; and Ron Rivera, former NFL head coach and 2022 Salute to Service Award recipient.

Below is the list of previous Salute to Service Award recipients: 

2022Ron Rivera, Former Head CoachWashington Commanders
2021Andrew Beck, Current PlayerDenver Broncos
2020Steve Cannon, Vice Chairman, AMB Sports + EntertainmentAtlanta Falcons
2019Donnie Edwards, Former PlayerLos Angeles Chargers
2018Ben Garland, Former PlayerAtlanta Falcons
2017Andre Roberts, Former PlayerAtlanta Falcons
2016Dan Quinn, Former Head CoachAtlanta Falcons
2015Vincent Jackson, Late PlayerTampa Bay Buccaneers
2014Jared Allen, Former PlayerChicago Bears
2013John Harbaugh, Head CoachBaltimore Ravens
2012Charles Tillman, Former PlayerChicago Bears
2011K.S. “Bud” Adams Jr., Late OwnerTennessee Titans

The Salute to Service Award is part of the NFL and USAA’s year-round commitment to recognize and honor the military community. Fans can join the NFL and USAA in honoring the military community by visiting NFL.com/Salute.