Pictures from the Buccaneers' annual Military Day at training camp.
Most Tampa Bay Buccaneer practices start with a stretch and then an air horn signaling the start of the first thing. On Friday, however, as the Buccaneers were opening their second practice of training camp, they were ushered into action in style, thanks to the expert trumpet playing of one John Malone.
Malone happens to be a staff sergeant in the United States Air Force, stationed at the nearby MacDill Air Force Base. That made him the perfect choice to perform the national anthem as the Buccaneers and more than 1,400 active-duty military, retired military, veteran service members and their families got together for Military Appreciation Day at One Buccaneer Place.
The Buccaneers will hold their first open practice of training camp on Saturday morning, but they devoted Friday to paying tribute to members of the military, part of a longstanding and rewarding relationship the team has forged with U.S. armed forces. The day began with Malone's trumpeting, as 90 Buccaneer players lined up on the sideline and members of the Amputee Veterans of America Support Team (AVAST) served as the Color Guard.
"Our guys are fired up for Military Day, get a little chill at that national anthem to start it off," said Buccaneers Head Coach Dirk Koetter at the end of the 95-minute workout. "We have the utmost respect for the people out here today and their support of our country. It lets us do what we do."
The Buccaneers, who hold an annual Salute to Service game during the regular season, frequently look for opportunities to interact with the servicemen and women at MacDill, as well as veterans such as the residents of the James A. Haley Veterans' Hospital in Tampa. On Friday, they reserved a special VIP section for visitors from the hospital, and all of the guests in attendance were treated to food and drink and a front-row seat to the Bucs' practice. At the conclusion of the workout, the players visited the stands to talk with their guests and provide autographs.
"They would like to do this all the time," said Colonel Randy Bright, the commander of the 927th Air Refueling Wing at MacDill. "They like to get out here, they like to be with the team, because the team displays that they're important to them. It's not just like, 'Hey, I'm a football player, come watch me.' No, you'll see here, just like we've seen before, when the players break they go work the ropes. They want to work the ropes because the military's sitting on the other side of the rope.
"This is a phenomenal [opportunity] for our folks to get together and be with their families in an event that is put on just for them. This is outstanding generosity on behalf of the Bucs."
In addition to the team's efforts to support and honor the military through the years, many individual Buccaneer players direct their community outreach efforts in that direction. That's particularly true of wide receiver Vincent Jackson, who in February was named the winner of the NFL's annual Salute to Service Award presented by USAA.
"[It's] awesome having a day dedicated to these servicemen and women and their families and for them to come out here," said Jackson. "Obviously having the color guard, the veterans, it's beautiful. I think a lot of the guys paid reverence to it. I loved the way the young guys respected it and it's nice for [the military community] to be able to come out here and kind of be a shining star this practice."
Through his Jackson in Action 83 Foundation, the Buccaneers' veteran receiver has made it a mission to provide support to military families. One of the Foundation's most impactful forms of outreach is the Danny Dogtags project, a planned series of three books that began about a year-and-a-half ago with the publishing of Danny Dogtags: Dealing with Deployment. Jackson introduced the second book on Friday: Danny Dogtags: Soccer Superhero.
"We have three main pillars in [the Jackson in Action 83 Foundation]: It's emotional health, it's physical health, and then it's focusing on educational development," said Jackson. "So this one obviously is about physical health.
"Besides that we're just proud to continue to provide some support for not only military families but youth in general. Reaching out to youth in our community, letting them know it's important to … get out and be healthy, be good in school, be good citizens. And of course if you need emotional help there's so many venues you there that you can get support from and that's kind of our focus and foundation as far supporting those young kids."
Guests at Friday's practices also received a number of parting items, including military-themed Buccaneer hats and pennants handed out by USAA, a military-themed Coca-Cola can and Buccaneer preseason game tickets. More than 2,000 tickets to Tampa Bay's games against Cleveland on August 26 and Washington on September 1.
The visiting military members also drew the respect and support of 90 Buccaneer players, all of whom appreciate the opportunities that the nation's military helps make possible. Bright said the Military Appreciation Day provided an enormous boost of morale for all of those in attendance.
"Most of the military folks don't look at themselves as heroes," he said. "They look at it as, hey, we're just doing our jobs."