NASHVILLE, Tenn. — As we recognize Veterans Day and the NFL’s Salute to Service week, some Tennessee Titans shared what impact the military has had on their lives and why they believe it’s important to honor them in abundance this week.
“It’s important for our guys to know,” said Titans coach Mike Mularkey, who was nominated for the NFL and USAA’s Salute to Service Award. “We have a lot of people sacrificing lives for us to come out here and play a game.”
The Titans invited 75 soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell to unfurl a U.S.-shaped American flag during the national anthem and at halftime during this Sunday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals. A team sponsor, Cooper Steeler, is providing 1,000 game tickets to Fort Campbell soldiers. Sunday’s 12th Titan will be Sgt. 1st Class Eric Harden, a Bronze Star and Purple Heart recipient.
During their Saturday walk-through, the Titans will host a group of veterans and their families, including a soldier stationed at Fort Campbell who was injured in the line of duty.
Several Titans players have direct ties to the military.
Eric Decker and his wife Jessie have a program called Decker’s Dogs, which helps rescue, care and provide training for service dogs for military veterans returning home with post-traumatic stress disorder, or any other disability or challenges.
“I still have family in the military. My wife’s a military kid. This day is about showing appreciation and recognition for what they do,” Decker said. “We got a new facility in Denver a couple of years ago. We got a chance to meet all the dogs that graduated at that point and their veterans. I talked to one about four weeks ago. There’s a few we stay in close contact with. We also have letters written.”
Titans receiver Rishard Matthews, a military brat whose Marine brother died in Afghanistan two years ago, jumped into the conversation, showing interest in Decker’s Dogs and questioning Decker about it.
“We don’t do enough things to help veterans transition. What they’re doing is great,” Matthews said. “They’re knocking out two birds with one stone, rescuing dogs and helping vets.”
Added Decker: “Some people are nervous in crowded places, so dogs know how to keep distance from them and keep them comfortable. We have one person that is scared to go into his house at night, so his dog is taught to turn on all the lights and tell him it’s OK to go inside.”
Titans tight end Delanie Walker spent eight days in the Middle East in April as part of a USO tour. He was there during air strikes in Syria.
“This is for those who fought in World World II, the Vietnam War or any other war. We just try to show our respect by praising them, showing them we care and thank you for what you do,” Walker said.
“When I went over there, you see what they go through. They stay in the desert in an undisclosed location. They can’t tell anybody where they’re at, not even their own family. They train probably 18 hours out of the day. I take away from that, the willpower they have to be able to do that and do it for a long time,” he added.
“Their training is way harder than our training, to be truthful with you. So you respect them a lot more, knowing they have to go through that and go through war as well. We go through training then play a kid’s game. It’s not even similar.”