By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service
BALTIMORE, Aug. 5, 2012 – NFL Head Coach John Harbaugh and his Baltimore Ravens football team honored troops by hosting a military appreciation day here.
The Ravens held its 5th annual military appreciation day at M&T Bank Stadium yesterday drawing an announced crowd of 20,354 fans, including nearly 3,500 seats set aside for service members and their immediate families, to view the team’s open training camp practice.
In addition to preferred seating, troops from every service were treated to complimentary t-shirts, patriotic gifts, photo and autograph opportunities.
Army Spc. John Wilhite, a cannon crewmember stationed at Fort Drum, N.Y., and a Baltimore Native, was excited to see his home team practice.
“I’m a Ravens fan, [having been] born and raised here,” Wilhite said. “I love the Ravens – always have, always will. I think the military appreciation is great.”
Wilhite, who attended with his wife, Jackie, recently returned home from deployment and was appreciative of an opportunity to participate in such an event.
“When they first started this, I was in Afghanistan,” he said. “I was in Kandahar, and [now] coming home to something like this from my favorite team [is great].”
“I think it’s awesome, actually, because he’s never home for anything, not even Veterans Day,” Jackie said. “It’s cool to have him here and be able to do this. It’s nice that they actually do this type of stuff especially for military personnel.”
Even service members who were non-Ravens fans came out in support of military appreciation day at the stadium.
“It means a lot,” said Navy Petty Officer Glen Martin, a cryptologic technician stationed at Fort Meade, Md. “It shows that they have compassion for the military and what we do for the country. It’s just nice to see [organizations] doing things like this for the military.”
Army Lt. Col. Scott Hooper, who works in the Pentagon, agreed, praising the Ravens’ head coach, as he was able to spend time on the sidelines, up close and personal, with players as they practiced and ran through their drills.
“I think it’s just wonderful,” Hooper said. “It’s really great, the outreach from the Ravens to the military, and John Harbaugh and everything he’s done for our soldiers going overseas, visiting us and always being supportive.”
“For the team to do this, open for the public, actually makes it more special for the military,” he said. “It makes you feel good and appreciated.”
Harbaugh, according to the Ravens, has been known for his support to the military community since he arrived as head coach in 2008 and started military appreciation day. In 2011, he was selected as one of two finalists for the inaugural NFL “Salute to Service” award for exceptional efforts to honor and support the military community.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno presented Harbaugh, who has participated in USO trips to visit troops abroad, with the Army’s Outstanding Civilian Service Award last spring.
“This experience is unforgettable,” said Army Lt. Col. Jose Ocasio, who serves with Hooper in the Pentagon. “I’ve never had the opportunity because of schedules and work to be on the field like this.”