The NFL and USAA, an official NFL Salute to Service partner, announced the 2023 nominees for the annual Salute to Service Award presented by USAA. The Salute to Service Award recognizes NFL players, coaches, staff and alumni with proven commitment to honoring and supporting military and veteran communities, as nominated by NFL clubs.
Returning this year, fans have an opportunity to vote for their favorite nominee to help determine the award’s three finalists. To see all the nominees and vote, visit NFL.com/SaluteFanVote from now until November 30. One vote per day, per fan is permitted.
The finalists of the award will be announced in January, and the recipient will be recognized at NFL Honors, a primetime awards special to air nationally in February during the week of Super Bowl LVIII.
“Military servicemembers, veterans and their families are unique, and so are the ways in which the nominees for this season’s Salute to Service Award presented by USAA show appreciation for the military community,” said Major General (Ret.) Bob Whittle, USAA Senior Vice President and Chief of Staff. “As NFL fans cast their votes, we hope the examples set by each nominee will lead to increased action by fans to honor, support and connect with all those who serve.”
Last year's award recipient was Washington Commanders Head Coach Ron Rivera. Rivera will serve on the award panel that selects the 2023 Salute to Service Award recipient once the three finalists are determined by the fan vote.
Additional panel members include 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; and Major General (Ret.) Robert Whittle, USAA Senior Vice President and Chief of Staff.
As the presenting sponsor of the Salute to Service Award, 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 the recipient's name to official aid societies representing all U.S. military branches. The NFL will match USAA's contribution by donating an additional $25,000 to the awardee's military or veteran charity of choice.
The Salute to Service Award is part of the NFL and USAA's year-round commitment to recognize and honor the military and veteran community. Each year, the NFL and its 32 teams come together to honor, empower and connect with service members, veterans and their families as part of the NFL's Salute to Service initiative. The league's military appreciation efforts culminate in November with NFL Salute to Service games and other special events throughout the season.
Below is the list of the 2023 Salute to Service Award presented by USAA nominees:
|2023 Salute to Service Award Nominees
|DENNIS GARDECK, LINEBACKER Dennis honors the sacrifices made by active-duty military by giving his time to organizations shining a light on our valued men and women of the armed forces. Together with veterans and active-duty military personnel, Dennis supported several in-person activations in Arizona, creating buzz around the military community and NFL’s Salute to Service initiative. These memorable activations impacted thousands of veterans, and active-duty military. Dennis Gardeck participates in several activations each year that connects Arizona’s military with the NFL community. Through Cardinals Charities, Dennis and his teammates improved the quality of life for children and adults, with purposeful physical training to improve their quality of life by participating in kids’ camps and football combines on bases around Arizona. Dennis and his teammates also participate with homeless veterans through MANA House in Phoenix, Arizona helping them receive new technology, beds, and other necessities needed to get reconnected with society. He recently partnered with Helping Hands for Freedom, TAPS, and Goldstar families to EMPOWER service members’ families that are impacted by the deployment of their loved ones. Dennis also provided these families with the most valuable item of all, his time. Dennis took the time during each activation to sit down and talk with each veteran and active-duty personnel attending. Dennis also recently took flight in an F-16, right alongside F-16 and F-35 Pilots at Luke AFB in Glendale, AZ.
|ARTHUR SMITH, HEAD COACH In his third season as a head coach, and fifteenth year overall in the NFL, giving back to our nation’s military has always been at the forefront for Arthur Smith. This past June, Smith participated in an Atlanta Falcons USO Trip to various military bases throughout the world. Instead of joining a typical USO trip with attendees from multiple NFL teams, Coach Smith was inspired to do a trip solely on behalf of the Atlanta Falcons. Smith, along with other Atlanta Falcons executives, coaches and players, traveled to three countries – Germany, Romania and Bulgaria – to visit American military members. Smith and the USO chose bases providing support to the conflict in Ukraine that were located in the most austere locations and had a significant lack of resources. Smith spent seven days overseas traveling hours in vans throughout the Eastern European countryside just to shake hands and visit with hundreds of military members. At the end of the trip, he helped announce that the Atlanta Falcons would be funding the first-ever USO Center on the Bulgarian military base to benefit thousands of soldiers. In addition to the trip overseas, Smith has participated in countless military activations with the team including military base visits, hosting soldiers at training camp, taking the team to West Point and many other opportunities. He also hosts military members at Atlanta Falcons home games throughout the year. Smith is the son of a U.S. Marine Corp Captain who served in the Vietnam War.
|BALTIMORE RAVENS CHEERLEADERS Throughout the history of the Baltimore Ravens Cheerleading program, the squad has continually demonstrated their appreciation for servicemen and women, most prominently by touring overseas. Over the 25+ years that the Ravens Cheerleading program has been in operation, the Baltimore Ravens Cheerleaders have participated in 24 overseas tours to support our troops abroad. Approximately 12 members of the squad travel to entertain the troops on each tour. In the past, cheerleaders have missed family functions, weddings, and even taken unpaid leave from work to have the opportunity to entertain our troops. This October, the Ravens Cheerleaders extended their time in London for the NFL UK game between the Baltimore Ravens and Tennessee Titans to make a few extra stops while overseas. The squad visited several US military troops deployed at bases all over the United Kingdom. The Baltimore Ravens Cheerleaders not only support troops abroad but are also very active in the Baltimore community supporting active and veteran military personnel close to home; this is a philanthropic priority for the squad, as there are numerous active-duty military members comprised within the Baltimore Ravens Cheerleading community. The 2023 Baltimore Ravens Cheerleading squad consists of five military members and additionally, there are 12 military members who serve as Baltimore Ravens Cheerleader alumni. A truly impactful moment for the Baltimore Ravens Cheerleading community occurred in early 2023 when the current squad was overseas visiting troops and made a special visit to see a former Baltimore Ravens Cheerleader who was actively serving overseas.
|REID FERGUSON, LONG SNAPPER Each season, Reid dedicates his time off the field to honoring the military community. On April 15, Reid and Coach Smiley accompanied 49 WNY veterans to Washington, D.C. on the 2023 Buffalo-Niagara Honor Flight. Reid connected with Honor Flight veterans and visited national war memorials. Both of Reid's grandfathers, great uncle, and great grandfather all served in the armed forces. During the Honor Flight, Reid said, “The sacrifice and what they gave to our country to be free and do what we do on a daily basis, sometimes that’s taken for granted. I think today I can take a step back, and come here and visit these memorials, and listen to their stories from throughout the years.” This upcoming Veteran’s Day, Reid will host his third annual Meet and Greet Happy Hour and Lunch event. The “Thank a Vet BBQ” benefits the Veterans One-Stop Center of WNY and provides local vets with lunch and drinks, courtesy of Reid. During last season’s Salute to Service initiative, Reid, his wife Erica and daughter Blakely visited the SPCA of Erie County to promote the Vets & Pets program and spend time with the SPCA’s Veteran volunteers. In April of 2021, Reid launched Grills Mafia, an apparel line of BBQ x Bills Mafia t-shirts in which proceeds are donated to Western New York food-based and veteran charities. For the 2022 My Cause, My Cleats initiative, Reid wore custom cleats in honor of the Veterans One-Stop Center of WNY.
|HAYDEN HURST, TIGHT END During his six-year NFL career, Carolina Panthers tight end Hayden Hurst has maintained a steadfast commitment to sharing his time, advocacy and resources to support the military community. For his efforts, he was named one of three finalists for the 2022 NFL’s Salute to Service Award. Hayden publicly shared his own personal battle with depression and anxiety in 2020, which opened the door for him to learn about the emotional, mental and psychological challenges faced by active-duty and veteran service members. Through his personal experiences, Hayden and the Hayden Hurst Foundation (HHF) continue to empower veterans and their mental health through a partnership with the Top Dogg K9 Foundation by funding service dogs and their comprehensive training before pairing them with veterans. The Top Dog Foundation recognized Hayden’s on-going support by presenting him with the agency’s Top Dogg Award at a Panthers home game this season. The HHF also supports the Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic which serves the Ft. Liberty community in Fayetteville, NC and a program which addresses the unique mental health needs of military children. Hayden honors military families by providing tickets to each Panthers home game and recognizes the importance of mental health for the military community through the NFL’s My Cause My Cleats program. Earlier in his career, Hayden struck a personal connection with a PSA sharing his own experiences and reassuring the military community that “it’s OK to not be OK”.
|CODY WHITEHAIR, OFFENSIVE GUARD As a veteran leader on the team, Cody consistently supports the community and particularly members of the military. As part of a series of videos, he showed his support for the Pat Tillman Foundation as they brought military Tillman Scholar, Catherine Paris, to Halas Hall to talk about the importance of service, the parallels between elite athletes and veterans, and the way Pat's legacy of humble leadership continues through the NFL and Tillman Scholars. For the second year in a row, Cody purchased four tickets through the Bears Home Team Hand-Off ticket donation program and donated them to our Boeing Military Salute honoree and their family. At each Bears home game, a deserving member of the military is honored in an on-field recognition during the third quarter. The Military Salute provides the opportunity for the Bears, Boeing, and fans to give thanks to those who protect our country and also honor the history and heritage of Soldier Field. Cody has enhanced the program not only by personally donating tickets, but by giving each honoree one of his signed jerseys as a memory of the day. He plans to continue his military support by taking part in our team’s Salute to Service events throughout the month of November, including a visit to Great Lakes Naval Base near the Bears training facility.
|CLINT WALKER, SECURITY STAFF MEMBER Clint Walker, a member of the Cincinnati Bengals’ security team since 2010, spent over 15 years as a member of the United States Army. Walker originally enlisted in the U.S. Army out of high school in 1976, and through 1992 he served in the Infantry Branch, in communications roles and in the U.S. Army Reserve. During that time, Walker was stationed in over seven locations around the globe, including Camp Casey (South Korea), the Garrison Ansbach military community (Germany), Fort Hunter Liggett and Fort Ord (California), Fort Gordon (Georgia), Fort Jackson (South Carolina) and Fort Dix (New Jersey). While stationed in Germany, Walker was an original member of the Ansbach Grizzlies, a team founded in 1979 that competed in the American Football Bundesliga (since renamed the German Football League). In addition to his role as a safety on the team, Walker helped teach native Germans the sport of football. With Walker’s assistance, the Grizzlies quickly became a contender in the league and in 1981, the year he was transferred back to the U.S., they won their first German Bowl. Since relocating to Cincinnati, Walker has sought to instill the values and work ethic that he learned from the Army in his four daughters, one of whom spent five years (2012-17) in the United States Navy including time as a chef on the USS Theodore Roosevelt.
|JOY TAPAJCIK, PLAYER PERSONNEL & FOOTBALL OPERATIONS PROCESS MANAGER Joy is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in political science and government. Before joining the Cleveland Browns in her current role, Joy spent nearly a decade in Naval Intelligence. As part of her last tour in the Navy, Joy was selected to be a flag aide for two different admirals, which served as a great learning experience for both her personal leadership and philosophy. Flag Aides are assigned to enable admirals to perform their official duties more effectively, proving to be a challenging but highly rewarding duty. Joy has brought this passion for leadership development to the Browns and has taken lead in organizing management training sessions to include Veteran presentations to the football operations departments heads. She is also working on two different military community internship initiatives for 2024. She is actively involved in Soldiers to Sidelines, which provides coaching certification to service members and veterans and integrates them into the community as coaches. This partnership could include an opportunity to participate in our offseason program/training camp to provide exposures and experience. She also works closely with DOD Skillbridge, which is an opportunity for service members to gain valuable civilian work experience through specific industry training during the last 180 days of service. She is working to make this a football operations internship.
|CHARLOTTE JONES, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT & CHIEF BRAND OFFICER As the Dallas Cowboys EVP and Chief Brand Officer, Charlotte Jones is passionate about growing the team’s brand both on the field and in the community. Her work with the National Medal of Honor Museum (NMOHM) highlights the Salute to Service tenants to honor, empower and connect service members, veterans, and families. Jones was instrumental in securing Arlington, Texas as the NMOHM home and now as Chairman of the NMOHM Foundation, her goal is to build a permanent home to honor these heroes. While over 40 million have served in the armed forces, fewer than 4,000 have received the Medal of Honor, with just 66 recipients living today. Through their stories, patrons will learn and connect with the values of courage, sacrifice, commitment, integrity, citizenship and patriotism. Charlotte’s leadership led to an overwhelmingly successful fundraising campaign to privately fund the museum, including a personal $20 million contribution from the Jones Family Foundation. Her push through the NMOHM to construct a Medal of Honor monument in Washington has connected both sides of the aisle, receiving unprecedented unanimous bi-partisan approval from Congress. Jones is making sure the entire project empowers and teaches others what leading with true character looks like by developing and launching the NMOH Ken Griffin Leadership Institute to focus on character education for students, business professionals and scholars. Additionally, Jones has been active in engaging the NFL and partners like EverFi to incorporate the values of the NMOH into national in-school youth programs like Character Playbook.
|RANDY GRADISHAR, LEGEND The Denver Broncos are proud to nominate Broncos Ring of Fame linebacker and Pro Football Hall of Fame Senior Finalist Randy Gradishar for the Salute to Service Award in recognition of his commitment to honor, empower and connect service members, veterans and their families. While at The Ohio State University, Gradishar joined ROTC expecting to be drafted and follow in the footsteps of his father and uncles who were WWII veterans. Although his number was not called, he has continued to honor service members. After his retirement from the NFL, he participated in three USO tours visiting troops in Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Qatar, UAE, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. Gradishar also continues to support team military outreach by hosting service members at select practices and visiting local Colorado bases, including Fort Carson during the 2022 Salute to Service Caravan presented by USAA. He has also participated in many Welcome Home ceremonies at Fort Carson and honored service members as they were reconnected with their loved ones. His support extends beyond Salute to Service month, as Gradishar continues to serve as the Outreach Coordinator at Mt. Carmel Veteran’s Service Center where he empowers and assists veterans in adjusting back to civilian life. Mt. Carmel Veterans Service Center is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing resources and assistance to veterans, military members and their families. For these reasons and more, Gradishar has earned the Denver Broncos’ nomination for the 2023 Salute to Service Award presented by USAA.
|RONNIE CYRUS, HOMETOWN HERO COORDINATOR Ronnie Cyrus, the Detroit Lions’ Hometown Hero Coordinator and an NFL Ambassador, served over 20 years in the US Army and is a retired Michigan National Guardsman. For the past nine years, Cyrus has been the Lions Hometown Hero Coordinator, where he connects the team with an active or retired military member to be recognized at each home game. Cyrus currently serves as the Military Transition Assistance Advisor for the state of Michigan, where he helps retired military members adjust to civilian life. From 2017-2023, Cyrus served as the Vice President of the Michigan Heroes Museum, a non-profit that showcases the stories of more than 850 Michigan service members. In 2016, he was awarded with the Legion of Merit, the highest honor awarded by the National Guard, in recognition of his service during his deployment in Liberia where he helped establish a military justice system and trained troops on how to stop the spread of the Ebola virus. During his deployment, he also helped build Bereean Christian Academy for Liberian youth. In recognition of his efforts, the Cyrus Library for Kids was named in his honor. In addition, Cyrus served as Master of Ceremonies at the inaugural Michigan Military & Veterans Gala event to honor and celebrate Michigan service members. He also worked with Dan Skipper’s “My Cause, My Cleats” choice to show support for the armed services. Skipper then donated the shoes to be displayed in the Michigan Heroes Museum.
|Green Bay Packers
|AARON JONES, RUNNING BACK Jones, who grew up with both of his parents serving in the U.S. Army, knows firsthand the sacrifices involved with serving, and he has made giving back to active-duty and veterans, a special focus of his community involvement. Jones is a big part of the Packers’ Salute to Service efforts, serving as a spokesperson for the initiative and taking part in every opportunity to honor veterans. Last November, he spent time promoting Patriot K9s of Wisconsin, a nonprofit devoted to connecting veterans with trained service dogs. In the last several years, Jones has sent videos to veterans, spoken with youth at military academies and taken part in events like the team’s Huddle for Heroes aimed at honoring veterans. He’s visited service members in the hospital and visited military bases, including Fort Bliss in his native town of El Paso, Texas. Jones’ A&A All the Way Foundation, which he founded with his twin brother, Alvin, also demonstrates his dedication to military members, helping those in need with special focus on honoring and empowering military families. They provide special, joy-filled experiences to children who have parents serving in the military, honoring the sacrifice these families make. The Foundation’s annual gala also raises money for military families, aimed at connecting them with the resources and care they need.
|HOUSTON TEXANS CHEERLEADERS The Houston Texans have a longstanding commitment to honoring those who serve our country and some of the greatest champions for the cause are the Houston Texans Cheerleaders (HTC). The Texans Cheerleaders have always dedicated their time and talents to celebrating service members. Since the inception of the franchise, HTC have supported organizations such as the United Service Organization (USO), Wounded Warrior Project (WWP), Operation Finally Home, Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), Tuesday's Children and many others. This offseason, eight Texans Cheerleaders and their coach, Casey, traveled to Poland for a 10-day military tour. The group visited 11 U.S. Army bases, bringing joy and comfort to those who were deployed. HTC were able to bond with those who were serving through meaningful conversations over lunch and dinner, card games and a Super Bowl watch party. The tour was especially meaningful for HTC Haley and HTC Bre’Yana as they both come from military families. Haley’s father served in the Marines and her grandfather and uncle served in the Army. Bre’Yana’s grandfather served in the Air Force during the Vietnam War. During the past two seasons, the Texans have recognized Haley and Bre’Yana’s family members during the team’s annual Salute to Service games.
|PETE WARD, CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER Colts Chief Operating Officer Pete Ward has consistently honored and empowered service members, veterans and their families over his four decades with the club. The Colts employ a significant number of veterans across the organization, and in the last three years alone have increased veteran representation on staff by 200 percent. That increase is the direct result of an intentional effort to hire talented staffers who happen to have served in the United States armed forces. Each year, the Colts host “Breakfast With Our Vets,” an event of which Ward is an executive sponsor. The event, in coordination with the Indiana National Guard and Indianapolis-area veteran’s organizations, gathers internal staffers and external members of the community together on Veteran’s Day to honor and support local veterans. Staff participation in the event is high, allowing members of the Colts to express their appreciation directly to veterans – while giving those veterans a space to be uplifted and recognized for their service to our country. Through Ward’s direction, the Colts have created a substantial place for active duty service members, veterans and their families on gamedays at Lucas Oil Stadium. Ward was part of an initiative to install a “Chair of Honor” at Lucas Oil Stadium in 2014, with the permanently-unoccupied seat honoring our POW and MIA heroes. The Colts honor Gold Star Families during the NFL’s annual Salute to Service game, and military members are a fixture during the national anthem.
|DEVIN LLOYD, LINEBACKER Lloyd was given a unique perspective early in life growing up in a military home with both parents proudly serving a combined 40 years in the U.S. Navy. Watching his parents work hard and make great sacrifices, Lloyd experienced firsthand what families with loved ones on deployment experience which is why he finds great joy in giving back to the military community. Over the years, Lloyd has visited with service members at local bases and has hosted multiple youth football camps for military children. In 2022, Lloyd visited Naval Station Mayport, learning the day-to-day operations and what life is like on the ship. Lloyd also believes in service and in inspiring the next generation, which led him to host a youth football camp at Naval Air Station (NAS) Jacksonville to give children an unforgettable experience and share the importance of living a healthy and active lifestyle while on base. Earlier this year, Lloyd visited the service members at NAS Jacksonville Lloyd and hosted a second free youth football camp at Fort Stewart in Georgia for more than 150 military boys and girls. During Jaguars training camp, Lloyd also participated in honoring our brave military personnel in a special edition jersey swap. Giving back and honoring our military community will be a continued focal point for Lloyd with plans to participate in the Jaguars 2023 Salute to Service initiative. Lloyd also represented the Wounded Warrior Project on his cleats during the 2022 NFL My Cause My Cleats campaign and will represent the United Service Organizations (USO) for the 2023 campaign.
|Kansas City Chiefs
|JAMES WINCHESTER, LONG SNAPPER Throughout his nine-year NFL career, James Winchester has used his position as an NFL player to live the tenants of the NFL Salute to Service initiative; to honor, empower and connect with service members, veterans and their families. Winchester has reached out to Service Members in a variety of ways. He has gone on several military base visits, most recently he visited Whiteman Air Force Base with former Chiefs Mike Garrett and Roger Burnhart. He also participated with the Veterans Community Project building homes for U.S. Veterans. During Super Bowl LIV and LVII, he participated and helped organize dinners with the team's former service members, along with other players to express appreciation for their service to the nation. Since its creation in 2017, Winchester has supported and been involved with the E3 Foundation. Formed by former MLB player Adam LaRoche and his wife Jennifer, E3 is a faith-based organization and one of their core missions is to support U.S. combat veterans. Winchester has worked with Curtis King, an executive coordinator at Gideon’s 300 and the E3 Foundation on one of their main activations, bi-yearly, multi-day group hunts at the E3 Ranch in Fort Scott, Kansas. The excursions aim to assist in the Gideon’s 300 mission to, “facilitate a healthy and supportive transition for veterans from military service to civilian life.” Along with investing his own time, Winchester has also recruited teammates to join him in his efforts to support service members and veterans.
|Las Vegas Raiders
|JIMMY GAROPPOLO, QUARTERBACK Jimmy Garoppolo, quarterback for the Las Vegas Raiders, embodies each tenant of the NFL’s Salute to Service campaign to honor, empower and connect service members, veterans, and their families. Garoppolo HONORS the sacrifices made by the service men and women of our armed forces by giving his time and effort to organizations that support those that serve our nation. This past Spring, Jimmy partnered with USAA at Nellis Air Force Base in Southern Nevada, his new home, for a day in the life experience with the United States Air Force Thunderbirds. During his time with the Thunderbirds, Garoppolo had the unique experience of being a guest on an F-16 fighter jet as it took to the skies above Las Vegas. That memorable activation was spurred by the Garoppolo family’s history in the United States military, as his grandfather served in the United States Marine Corps. Garoppolo CONNECTS with the service and veteran community, focusing on spending times with families of fallen soldiers. In past seasons, Garoppolo has hosted families at games during the month of November as a part of the NFL’s Salute to Service initiative. Garoppolo EMPOWERS service members and their families, representing Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) for the NFL’s “My Cause, My Cleats” campaign. He donates his cleats each season to TAPS to be auctioned off at their annual fundraiser, helping those in need.
|Los Angeles Chargers
|MORGAN FOX, DEFENSIVE LINEMAN With three generations of family members who have proudly served and saw combat duties, Chargers Defensive Lineman Morgan Fox has a deep-rooted connection to our nation’s military members and Veterans that extends beyond the field. Morgan has worked closely with the Wounded Warrior Project on several events including participating in workouts, being a featured speaker, and connecting with Warriors that are a part of the Project Odyssey Program. Morgan celebrated the grand re-opening of the U.S. Vets Long Beach Dining Hall renovation and served meals to over 300 Veterans. He also hosted the Wounded Warrior Project Warriors at the Chargers practice facility, represented our nation’s Fallen Heroes through the nonprofit Tragedy Assistant Program for Survivors (TAPS), and talked about the parallels between elite athletes and veterans with the Pat Tillman Foundation. In November 2022, during Salute to Service month, Morgan created his own merchandise with all proceeds going to The Headstrong Project and the Wounded Warrior Project. On the field, Morgan has raised awareness and funds through his My Cause My Cleats for nonprofit organizations including Wounded Warrior Project, The Headstrong Project, Merging Vets and Players, One Tribe Foundation (Formally 22KILL), and War Heroes on Water. These organizations support and assist Veterans in overcoming mental and emotional struggles they face after their service has ended. Morgan’s ongoing support of our nation’s military and Veterans will be something he carries with him far beyond his playing career.
|Los Angeles Rams
|COOPER KUPP, WIDE RECIEVER Cooper's unwavering commitment to Salute to Service is deeply rooted in his profound appreciation for service members, underpinned by a strong familial connection. In a remarkable demonstration of his dedication, Cooper collaborated with the Call of Duty Endowment during the My Cause My Cleats initiative last year. Through this partnership, he contributed over $50,000 to the endowment, which plays a pivotal role in preparing veterans for high-quality job opportunities. This selfless act of generosity underscores Cooper's profound belief in the importance of assisting veterans in their transition to civilian life. Not content with monetary contributions alone, Cooper goes the extra mile by channeling the proceeds from his "Team CK" merchandise sales towards multiple military organizations that actively support service members during this transition. Cooper personally purchases tickets for home games and directs them towards service members and veterans, ensuring they can attend games. Looking ahead to the upcoming Salute to Service Week, Cooper is set to lead the Rams Holiday for Heroes Campaign. As part of this heartwarming initiative, he will actively engage in writing holiday cards for service members and veterans serving overseas and living domestically. His participation not only uplifts the spirits of these heroes but also fosters a deep sense of connection and appreciation within our community.
|BLAKE FERGUSON, LONG SNAPPER Inspired by his WWII Navy veteran great grandfather and his Air Force veteran best friend, Blake Ferguson has fostered a deep military appreciation throughout his life. Since the Miami Dolphins drafted him in 2020, Blake immediately dedicated his time, energy and involvement to team military initiatives. He jumped at opportunities not only to participate, but also to lead. In 2021 and 2022, Blake hosted his annual military appreciation barbecue event to honor active-duty military members and veterans in South Florida during Salute to Service. In partnership with United Way of Broward County’s Mission United, Blake distributed 800 Thanksgiving meals to Broward County’s military veterans and active reserve members. He also attended the U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Miami flag football game between officers and enlisted and visited the air station later in 2022. He supports the Miami Dolphins TAPS families and continues to seek every avenue to support the United States military from team and individual opportunities to messages of encouragement through social and digital media. In the 2023 offseason, Blake was invited to visit Fort Jackson to learn more about the Basic Combat Training Experience and immerse himself in day-to-day life while connecting with those on base. To kick off this season, Blake welcomed Veterans with Wounded Warrior Project to a VIP day at training camp and later surprised an Air Force Veteran with a brand-new air-conditioning unit to thank her for her service and visited the Florida Department of Veterans Nursing Home.
|BUD GRANT, LEGEND In Bud Grant’s words, “Stars and heroes are different. Stars entertain us; heroes define us. In the morning light, stars fade away. Heroes never do.” Despite being the most famous sports figure in Minnesota for decades, Bud always made a point to distance himself from the hero category. Although he had served in the United States Navy, he reserved hero status for other servicemembers, including those who sacrificed their lives in duty. Thinking about the courage and conviction of some of his contemporaries brought Bud to tears, even more than a half century later. Bud’s sincere respect of service members and the United States prompted him to create the “Viking Formation” in which the team stood at full attention during the National Anthem. Roughly 50 years after the “Viking Formation” appeared on the cover of the 1974 Vikings Press Guide, Vikings Legends who played for Bud, including National Guard veteran Carl Eller, lined up in the formation as Minnesota opened its 2023 regular season. Although Bud passed away six months earlier in March, his genuine appreciation for service members continues through the players he coached and fans he impacted. Bud had a long history of honoring, empowering and connecting with active military members and veterans, including through his support for Minnesota Veterans Outdoors. The organization provides memorable hunting and fishing opportunities for disabled veterans. The veterans can share their experiences as they receive outdoor recreational therapy outlets.
|New England Patriots
|JOE CARDONA, LONG SNAPPER Joe’s journey began at the United States Naval Academy as a four-year football player. During his rookie season, Joe displayed exceptional dedication by balancing a second full-time job as an Ensign in the Navy. In 2015, he juggled his NFL responsibilities with this demanding role, even working a 24-hour shift during the team's "day off." In 2017, he earned a promotion to lieutenant junior grade (LTJG). As a junior officer of Maritime Security Squadron 8, Joe currently oversees the logistical needs of 500 sailors. This offseason, he deployed with his unit to Djibouti, Africa. Joe recently has joined the board of the Military Family Advisory Network, a nonprofit organization that provides vital support to military families facing hardships. In 2016, following a fire at Joint Base Cape Cod, Joe personally visited with affected military families. He also led a toy collection drive to help replace items lost in the inferno. Additionally, he took the time to lead several free football clinics for military children at various bases across New England, including Hanscom Air Force Base and Naval Station Newport. Joe has personally delivered new bicycles to military families and helped complete a new home for a wounded veteran. Joe has actively participated in events like Brothers of Life at Gillette Stadium, an annual gathering hosted by the Kraft family that brings together Israeli wounded soldiers and American counterparts. As a service member, Joe has presided over more than a dozen re-enlistment and retirement ceremonies at Gillette Stadium.
|New Orleans Saints
|PETE WERNER, LINEBACKER Pete Werner, Linebacker for the New Orleans Saints, was the team’s second round draft pick out of Ohio State in 2021 and the Saints’ current leading tackler. Werner honors the sacrifices made by all military members as he never hesitates to engage in any military-related engagement. As the proud grandson of a pair of military veterans, he understands and respects the sacrifices that are made by military members and their families. One grandfather, Richard E. Cowen, served in the United States Navy Dental Corps from 1963-65 where he was stationed in San Diego. His deceased grandfather, Roland F. Werner, served in the Navy from 1959-63, stationed in Pensacola, Florida and Newfoundland, Canada. He also wore the initials of a TAPS fallen soldier on the back of his helmet during last year’s Saints Salute to Service game and engaged with the fallen soldier’s family after a practice held at the team’s facility. Werner connects with our local military community as he was a heavily engaged participant in the Saints Battle of the Branches event, which is one of the Saints major activations as part of the NFL’s Salute to Service initiative. During the event, local members of all four branches competed in a series of challenges on the indoor field, buoyed by Werner’s encouragement, including a flag football game, tug of war, the 40-yard dash and more. Werner remains eager to empower members of the military as he looks forward to once again interacting and supporting our military this November.
|New York Giants
|GRAHAM GANO, KICKER Graham Gano honors the sacrifices made by military personnel and veterans, as his family is steeped in military tradition. His father served in the Navy for 30 years as a Master Chief Petty Officer, his three brothers were Marines and his grandfather was a World War II veteran. Growing up in a military family taught him discipline, perspective and motivation. In fact, you’ll often find him standing at attention instead of his usual warm up during pregame when military personnel are around. It’s the same level of respect that guided him to use his resources to empower service members through a nonprofit called Puppies Behind Bars which provides service dogs for wounded veterans. When a rookie player asked for Gano’s jersey number (5) in 2022, he agreed, with one stipulation – that the rookie make a contribution to this organization to help 5 veterans get 5 service dogs. That $50,000 donation changed 5 lives for the better. His community work didn’t stop there, his desire to connect with service members and their families was evident when he hosted a free 2-day football camp at Fort Bragg in 2022. Open to boys and girls who were dependents of active duty, retirees, and DoD civilian employees, 150 youth were treated to a day of football, fun and food for the families.
|New York Jets
|TONY RICHARDSON, LEGEND
Tony honors the sacrifices made by his father Ben Richardson, US Army Sergeant Major Vietnam Veteran, Purple Heart Recipient and Drill Sergeant and his Sister Shon Richardson, Master Sergeant for 28 years with 4 deployments by volunteering his time consistently to support and meet with military personnel. During Fleet Week, Tony has coached military Flag Football Teams and flown out to a Navy Ship to eat dinner, interact with soldiers, and hold “chalk talks". Tony has packed meals with AmeriCorps on alongside Roger Goodell and other NFL staff. Tony will serve in the Honorary Commander Program which connects and exposes the local community to the missions of the armed services, and promote public awareness of the missions, policies, and programs of the United States Air Force and an understanding of the Department of Defense. Tony will be paired with US Army 2nd Brigade ROTC at the Joint Base McGuire Dix to create one-on-one opportunities to inform and educate local community leaders about the missions of the installation and the United States Military. Tony has partnered with the USO and toured Okinawa to empower service members that are deployed. Additionally, Tony has worked with MVP: Merging Combat Veterans and Athletes which empowers combat veterans and former professional athletes by connecting them after the uniform comes off; providing them with a new team to assist with transition, promote personal development, and show them they are never alone.
|CRISTIAN NARINO GARCIA, OPERATIONS COORDINATOR Cristian Narino Garcia served in the United States Armed Forces for close to four years prior to joining the National Guard. His decorated military career includes more than 10 awards and honors, the highest of which was the Air and Space Achievement medal that he earned four times. His various roles consisted of everything from nutrition management in the dining facilities to physical fitness assessments for the 111th Attack Wing. While applying ServeSafe standards and enforcing U.S Food and Drug Administration guidelines in the dining facilities, Cristian averaged 300 meals served per drill weekend. His attention to detail regarding food safety and portion control resulted in “0” discrepancies and a 100% success rate in feeding all dining facility customers. His efforts did not stop there. As he progressed, Cristian assumed managerial responsibilities for the Wing fitness program, where he monitored the administration of approximately 100 physical fitness assessments per month for the 111th Attack Wing. He has helped reorganize programs and back-fill positions while members were deployed, assisted with various front office customer service duties. He was also a part of the COVID-19 task force charged with responding to hospitals, nursing homes, and the City’s Medical Examiner’s office. Cristian is a valuable member of the Eagles community who initially started his career in retail sales, then took on an associate role in the marketing department, and now serves as a full-time member of the organization as the Facilities Operations Coordinator.
|LEVI WALLACE, CORNERBACK Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Levi Wallace represents the pillars of the NFL’s Salute to Service campaign - to honor, empower and connect with service members, veterans and their families. That is because those pillars exist in his own life, as the proud son of military members. Both of Levi’s parents, Wendy and the late Walter Wallace, served in the United States Air Force. His mother served for four years, while his father served for 21 years reaching the rank of Master Sergeant. As an athlete, Levi wasn’t heavily recruited out of high school, but was able to attend the University of Alabama because of his parents military service. Modeling his parents dedication, Levi dedicated himself to his craft both on their field and in the classroom, eventually earning himself a scholarship. It’s the sacrifices his parents made, as well as all of those who serve, that inspire him to give back. One of the projects he got involved with when he joined the Steelers as an unrestricted free agent in 2022, is the hero banner program for military veterans. Each year the Steelers present local veterans with banners honoring their service, which then hang on Art Rooney Avenue outside of Acrisure Stadium during the month of November. For the second year in a row, Levi looks forward to participating in the event and welcoming the veterans to the team’s Salute to Service game.
|San Francisco 49ers
|GEORGE KITTLE, TIGHT END George Kittle’s appreciation for the military runs deep and is rooted in family with his Uncle Pat and Grandfather Carl among loved ones who have served. Kittle empowers service members by lending his platform and resources to raise awareness and encourage others to overcome adversity. Over five years, Kittle has donated over 200 tickets to service members and frontline heroes for nearly every home and away game. Kittle and his family founded Hidden Pearls Podcast (HPP) in 2020, amplifying community stories, including those of 45 veterans. Kittle has donated nearly $150,000 to military nonprofits, including those selected by each veteran hosted on HPP. Since the inception of My Cause My Cleats, Kittle’s honored military sacrifices, selecting the Pat Tillman Foundation, TAPS, MVP and Operation Freedom Paws. In 2018, he connected the Salute to Service initiative to audiences worldwide, shaking the hands of every service member participating in the MNF anthem, garnering over 10 million views. Kittle also sustains these relationships. After gifting the family of fallen Army soldier SGT Martin LaMar Super Bowl LIV tickets, Kittle continues to host the LaMars at Training Camp and keeps SGT LaMar’s purple heart in his locker. Last year, he hosted Ramon, a veteran experiencing PTSD and Huey, his service dog, at practice. Kittle stayed in touch, leveraging his platforms to raise awareness for vets with PTSD by sharing Ramon’s story on HPP and social media. Inspired by such stories, Kittle and his family launched Mindful Meditation in 2020, offering free monthly mental health practices to MVP veterans.
|JON RHATTIGAN, LINEBACKER Jon Rhattigan, Seahawks Linebacker, embodies each tenant of the NFL’s Salute to Service campaign to honor, empower and connect service members, veterans, and their families. Rhattigan was signed by the Seahawks in 2021 as an undrafted free agent and is the first West Point graduate to play for the Seahawks. At West Point, Rhattigan played in 25 games from 2018-20. As a senior he was named a second-team All-America by USA Today and was Army's first-ever semifinalist for the Bednarik Award, given to the nation's top linebacker. Following graduation, Rhattigan received special approval from the Army to defer his service while he joined the NFL. “After my playing career, whenever that may be, I will require five years of active duty or service in some capacity,” he told The Tacoma News Tribune during his rookie season. Although his service has been deferred while he’s in the league, his time with the Seahawks has been dedicated to supporting the local military community. During 2023 Seahawks Training Camp, Rhattigan personally met with more the more than 150 active-duty service members who attended the team’s special “Military Day” practice. He also joined the team’s recent Call of Duty Gaming event, where he spent time with members of the Seattle Recruiting Battalion and future soldiers who would soon be departing for basic training. He engaged with more than 75 veterans as part of a Merging Vets & Players workout and was a leader in a team fundraising campaign for Brigadoon Service Dogs, which raised more than $14,000 to connect service dogs with veterans. This November, as part of the team’s Salute to Service campaign, Rhattigan will visit Joint Base Lewis McChord to spend time with the First Special Forces Unit to learn about their training and leadership. In November, Rhattigan will be supporting the military once again through the NFL’s My Cause My Cleats campaign, where his cleats will support Mission 22, a non-profit focusing on mental health and wellness support for Veterans.
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers
|MARTIN GRAMATICA, LEGEND Martín honors U.S. service members through his foundation to positively impact the quality of life of community veterans through housing initiatives. Since its inception, the Gramatica Family Foundation has built 10 homes for veterans, empowering veterans who require special considerations to live independently. Martín and the foundation are currently working alongside other Tampa area nonprofits to build two more homes from the ground up. One home is for a local veteran couple while the second home includes a mother, a father who retired from the Army, and their adult son with disabilities whom the parents will care for long term. Through his SIPS (Structural Insulated Panel Systems) business, Martín has donated all the walls for these veteran home builds. He has also provided another $100,000 in donated or at-cost building materials to Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas and West Pasco Counties, helping them to complete more than 60 homes since 2018 for non-military affiliated homeowners. While the mission of the Gramatica Family Foundation initially was centered around building homes for veterans, that focus has shifted as the nature of the conflict in the Middle East began to shift, bringing fewer veterans’ home with life-altering physical injuries. Martín and his foundation have connected with other local nonprofits to help identify veterans in need and provide modifications, repairs, and rebuilds on their existing structures, allowing aging and disabled veterans the opportunity to live safely with comfort and dignity inside their own homes.
|PETER SKORONSKI, GUARD In the 2023 NFL Draft, the Tennessee Titans selected offensive lineman Peter Skoronski as first round pick. The grandson of Green Bay Packers legend and military hero, Bob Skoronski, Peter grew up with a deep love of the game, but also an unwavering passion and admiration for military service. Knowing the NFL Draft was a dream come true both he and his grandfather shared, he opted to leverage the Draft stage as a platform to honor his legacy and celebrate our military. During the week of the 2023 NFL Draft, Peter partnered with USAA to participate in several activations at Whiteman Air Force Base. He rode along in an Army National Guard Black Hawk Helicopter, took a tour of several U.S. Air Force warplanes and held a meet and greet for military personnel on base to sign autographs and interact with service members and their families. He credited his grandfather during this experience who played in the NFL for Vince Lombardi and served in the Air Force. During training camp this year, Chapter 38 of the Special Forces Association was surprised by Peter and Academy Sports with a visit to the Titans practice facility to observe training camp. He took the time to greet the members of Chapter 38 and made a personal connection with the group before surprising them with tickets to the Titans vs. Patriots preseason game.
|CHRIS BAILEY, WASHINGTON SALUTE MILITARY PROGRAM LEAD With 25 years of military experience as a retired Navy Captain, which included time as a Seahawk helicopter pilot, Chris Bailey leads the Washington Commanders military outreach programming tailored to active-duty military, veterans and their families across the DMV. With the Commanders uniquely situated in the nation’s capital, Chris serves the largest community of military veterans in the country, producing best-in-class initiatives. His aim is to connect the military community with one another and the Washington Football family. In-season, Chris coordinates impactful experiences and military in-game moments to honor the military community. This past summer alone, Chris hosted various events including Military Appreciation Day at Training Camp, a walkthrough for Commanders players and coaches at Joint Base Andrews, a VIP tour of the Pentagon and an Orientation Flight at JBA for Commanders players; a six-stop base tour visit, and an NFL Combine bootcamp for local service members. Last season, he led Salute to Service including a visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center with Commanders players, a Bowie State University ROTC Cadets scholarship event, a USO pack for troops event, a VIP practice experience for TAPS families, and a DMV military job fair. Chris actively speaks about his journey to the NFL to empower others making the same transition as a retired veteran. He knows how difficult it can be and the need to reach out for support, hence his close relationship with the MISSION CONTINUES and the Commit Foundation, organizations committed to supporting servicemembers and veterans in transition.
Since 2011, USAA has used its partnership to honor and appreciate active-duty military, veterans and their families by creating exclusive opportunities that bring the military community and the NFL closer together. Among numerous events this season, USAA hosted "NFL Boot Camps" during training camp with multiple teams, where military members competed in drills similar to those used at the NFL Combine. In the lead up to Veterans Day, USAA organizes NFL team visits to various military installations. For more information on how USAA honors and appreciates our military, please visit SaluteToService.com. Fans can join the NFL and USAA in honoring the military community all year long by visiting NFL.com/Salute.
Salute to Service
Salute to Service is the NFL's year-long initiative to honor, empower, and connect our nation's service members, veterans, and their families. Since 2011, this effort has raised more than $66 million for military and veteran support organizations such as the Bob Woodruff Foundation (BWF), Pat Tillman Foundation (PTF), Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), United Service Organizations (USO) and Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP). For more information on Salute to Service, visit NFL.com/Salute.
Founded in 1922 by a group of military officers, USAA is among the leading providers of insurance, banking, and investment and retirement solutions to more than 13 million members of the U.S. military, veterans who have honorably served and their families. Headquartered in San Antonio, USAA has offices in eight U.S. cities and three overseas locations and employs more than 37,000 people worldwide. Each year, the company contributes to national and local nonprofits in support of military families and communities where employees live and work. For more information about USAA, follow us on Facebook or Twitter (@USAA), or visit usaa.com.