Today, the NFL and USAA, the Official NFL Salute to Service Partner, announced the 32 nominees for the eighth annual Salute to Service Awardpresented by USAA. Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive lineman Evan Smith has been nominated for the prestigious honor, which annually recognizes NFL players, coaches and personnel who demonstrate an exemplary commitment to honoring and supporting the military community, as selected by NFL clubs.
Finalists for the Salute to Service Award presented by USAA will be announced in January, and the recipient will be recognized at NFL Honors, a two-hour primetime awards special to air nationally on Feb. 2, 2019 the night before Super Bowl LIII.
"This is a huge honor," said Smith. "I've always thought this award was special and to be nominated is a true privilege. Our servicemembers have made a great commitment and sacrifice for our country and to be able to honor them means the world to me. We're entertainers – we get paid to do a job. They go out there and make sacrifices just to make sure we get the protections we deserve as citizens of the United States."
Growing up in a military household, Smith developed a respect and reverence for the armed forces at an early age. His father, Albert, was a member of the United States Army 82nd Airborne division, which specializes in parachute operations, from 1971-1973. Smith's grandfather, Robert Dietrich served in the Navy during World War II from 1942-1945. His brother, Alex Dietrich-Smith, became the third generation to serve in the military and was deployed in the Iraq War, for which he was awarded a Purple Heart. In all, Smith and his wife have 12 relatives who have or are currently serving in the United States Military.
That familial connection has translated into a strong passion and desire to aid veterans and service members, especially in Tampa Bay's large military community. This season, Smith has visited members of the U.S. Coast Guard in St. Petersburg and continued a tradition of visiting MacDill Air Force Base to meet with military members during players' days off. Every opportunity the Buccaneers have to go on base or interact with servicemen and servicewomen, Smith is the first to volunteer.
This past offseason, Smith also served as the honorary speaker at the General H Norman Schwarzkopf Military Family of the Year Awards, which honor the families of active duty military members from each branch of service. Addressing a packed crowd in the auditorium at AdventHealth Training Center, Smith expressed his gratitude for the sacrifices these families make, recognizing their integrity, courage, commitment and service before self. As someone who has lived through challenges that military families often face, Smith knows firsthand how hard daily life can be.
In 2017, during a USAA Boot Camp event coordinated for military members and their families at Buccaneers Training Camp, Smith not only took extra time following practice to participate in the competitive drills, but he went even further to ensure all participants were honored. As the Boot Camp's winners received tickets to the team's Salute to Service game that season, Smith quietly committed to purchase an additional 50 tickets for the group so that every participant would be able
to attend. Since joining Tampa Bay in 2014, Smith has purchased and donated hundreds of tickets to Buccaneers home games for local military, a tradition he has continued in 2018 with his Evan Smith's Soldiers ticket program.
As this season progresses, Smith will be continuing his military appreciation efforts with the NFL's My Cause, My Cleats initiative. Smith has chosen to wear specially-designed cleats in support of the Jackson in Action 83 Foundation, launched by former Buccaneers wide receiver and 2015 Salute to Service Award Winner Vincent Jackson. The charity focuses on supporting the educational, emotional and physical health of children of local military families and exemplifies Smith's compassion for veterans and active duty military members.
The Salute to Service Award is part of the NFL and USAA's year-round commitment to recognize and honor the military community. Each year, the NFL and its 32 teams come together to honor and support members of the military as part of the NFL's Salute to Service. The league's year-round military appreciation efforts culminate in November with NFL Salute to Service games and other special events honoring veterans, active duty service members and their families. Since 2011, more than $26 million has been raised through Salute to Service to support the league's military nonprofit partners.