Army Lieutenant active-duty Brian Brennan served as an inspiration to Buccaneer players on Wednesday, who took the opportunity to thank Brennan for his sacrifices to preserve their freedom
Dominik defined that word for the men assembled before him, and he did so by simply introducing the man standing next to him: Lieutenant active-duty Brian Brennan.
In May of 2008, Brennan was leading a caravan of soldiers through the front lines of Afghanistan when a roadside bomb detonated, killing three fellow soldiers and leaving Brennan critically injured. The explosion severed both of his legs, and his brain trauma was so severe that he fell into a coma.
Brennan was hospitalized and hopes for his recovery seemed bleak until a special visit from General David Petraeus miraculously brought him back into consciousness. After only a year of therapy and rehabilitation, Brennan began to walk with the help of prosthetic legs, and he has continued his service in the U.S. Army by working for the Futures task force at MacDill Air Force Base.
And on the occasion of this Veterans Day, Brennan visited One Buccaneer Place as Dominik's special guest to help the Buccaneers' general manager deliver a timely message of courage and sacrifice, and to pay tribute to those who have served in the armed forces.
"Today is one of those days where we need to say thank you and just remind everybody of all the great things that our military does for us not only here, but overseas as well," Dominik said. "Today is about the veterans in this country, and I suggest anybody who has a chance to see one today or knows one, it's worth a phone call to say thank you for what they've done for our country."
On Tuesday, Brennan received a visit of his own from Dominik and a pair Buccaneer players. Dominik, Maurice Stovall and Jimmy Wilkerson traveled to Brennan's Tampa home as part of the Buccaneers' "Operation: Welcome Home" initiative. Prompted by Dominik and in conjunction with Rebuilding Together Tampa Bay, the team is renovating Brennan's house to make it more flexible and accessible to his needs. Home improvements will include a renovated bathroom, an enlarged bedroom closet and an upgraded back porch.
"This is an opportunity for us to make his house handicapped-accessible," Dominik said. "We thought we could help him with the bathrooms, with the flooring, with anything in his house to make life a little bit more comfortable and better for him in his situation. So it's a new project that we're initiating right now and it's something that we kicked off yesterday and we're excited about it."
Over the past two weeks, Rebuilding Together Tampa Bay has worked hard on its Veterans Housing program, an initiative which assists home projects such as the Buccaneers' "Operation: Welcome Home". The program was implemented to meet the growing needs of veterans of past and present wars and fill the gaps in housing modifications and repair services that active servicemen and women struggle to meet. With help from organizations like the Buccaneers, the Veterans Housing program provides safe and accessible housing for local veterans.
"It's such a huge win for our community to have the Tampa Bay Buccaneers embrace the program and to be able to help these veterans," said Sharon Baillie of Rebuilding Together Tampa Bay. "Not only was Lieutenant Brennan in need of home modifications due to his disability, he had no accessibility in his bathroom. Inside the bathroom, you would literally have to step up to get in the shower, and he doesn't have the capability to do that, so the home modifications were extremely important to his comfort. The fact that General Manager Mark Dominik and the players supported and embraced him meant so much more than the home modification."
Brennan's appreciation for Tuesday's special guests came as no surprise. An avid Notre Dame fan, he was particularly excited to meet Stovall, a Fighting Irish alum. After sharing stories of South Bend and reflecting on the football program's current season, the wide receiver left Brennan with a keepsake to hold onto: his Buccaneers jersey.
"This is probably more for us," said Dominik. "It was an opportunity to meet a soldier, someone who was willing to and almost did give his life for his country, and certainly sacrificed for his country and will for the rest of his life. What he gave over in Afghanistan and the rest is just more for our team, [for] our players to constantly remind us how important our military is, not only in our history but in our future."
The team's introduction to Brennan had a significant impact on the Buccaneers' other Notre Dame alum, center Jeff Faine. Faine was so inspired by Brennan's story that following practice he gave him his helmet — the very one he wears on Sundays. In return, he requested that Brennan autograph his knee brace, a plastic and metal support covered in American flags, to constantly remind him of the greater sacrifices at hand.
"I never thought that I would ever do anything like that, but especially for someone like him to give me his knee brace for me to sign, I would have given him stuff for him to sign for me," said Brennan. "It meant a great deal that he really did appreciate it that much and he really thinks about my story that [it means] that much for him to have me sign it."
Wilkerson couldn't help but feel inspired by his encounters with Brennan over the previous 48 hours.
"It was a very positive deal as far as him speaking in front of the players," said Wilkerson. "To see how Lieutenant Brennan has overcome all the bad things that have happened to him, to see him being focused and continuing to serve. Seeing him out there, it gave us a little motivation also to go out there and try harder for a guy like him, because he's going out there and trying his best to continue the freedom for the United States of America. "
For Brennan, seeing that his efforts have an impact meant all the difference.
"To see it in their faces, it's definitely a lot different than somebody that's on TV saying, "Hey, thank you to our service members,'" he said. "To actually sit there and talk to them and really feel that they actually do appreciate it, it's a whole different world."