Since taking over as general manager of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in January of 2009, Mark Dominik has pushed the team to redouble its efforts to give back to the community. Dominik himself has taken part in many of these efforts, but he has a particular passion for one form of community outreach.
The son and brother of U.S. Navy servicemen, Dominik focuses much of his altruistic work on the military. Over the past three years, he has continually found new ways to recognize the men and women of the U.S. military for their service, to improve the lives of those who have sacrificed in that service, and to focus the community's attention on that sacrifice.
Dominik's efforts have not gone unnoticed. In December, he was nominated for the inaugural Salute to Service Award, to be presented by USAA to an NFL coach, player or staff member who has distinguished himself in his appreciation of military service.
A total of 28 NFL representatives received nominations for the award, and last week, that original list was pared down to 10 semifinalists. Dominik was named one of those semifinalists, a testament to the far-reaching impact that he and the Buccaneers have had with their military appreciation events in recent years.
The first USAA Salute to Service Award will be announced during the NFL Honors event that will be broadcast live on NBC this Saturday, on the eve of Super Bowl XLVI. Tennessee Titans Owner Bud Adams Jr. and Baltimore Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh were just named as the two finalists on Monday.
To be selected as a semifinalist from among the original entrants, nominees needed to be involved in noteworthy acts of appreciation to the military through December 20, 2011, with actions that are ongoing or which took place in the last few years also considered. Among the sorts of acts the USAA and the NFL looked for were events and programs that recognized military members and their families for their service; free clinics for the military and their families; visits to troops at domestic or international bases, and to wounded veterans at VA hospitals; and the hosting of troops at NFL games.
The events and acts of military appreciation organized by Dominik and the Buccaneers in recent years fit into these categories but also went beyond them in the scope of their creativity and humanity. For instance, when 25-year-old Lieutenant Brian Brennan, a Bay area native, lost both of his legs as the result of a roadside bomb in Afghanistan, Dominik devised "Operation: Welcome Home" for the returning hero. In conjunction with Rebuilding Together Tampa Bay, Dominik arranged for interior and exterior upgrades to Brennan's home to make it more accommodating to his daily needs.
Similarly, this past December Dominik visited the home of retired U.S. Air Force Staff Sergeant Andreas Bernt bearing a $40,000 Buccaneers donation for another extensive renovation project. That project is currently underway as renovators seek to make the Bernt home more suitable for the needs of the former emergency rescue responder, who is battling Stage 4 Lymphoma and is paralyzed from the chest down.
Dominik had made his commitment to recognition and aid for the military known even before he was named the Buccaneers' general manager, but his ascension to that post was followed almost immediately by a local act of military valor that he felt needed attention and praise. In March of 2009, the U.S. Coast Guard Sector St. Petersburg launched a search-and-rescue mission for four missing boaters, two of whom were former Buccaneer players, Marquis Cooper and Corey Smith. After the mission located the boat 40 miles southwest of Clearwater and rescued the lone survivor, Nick Schuyler, Dominik visited the sector and spoke to more than 100 troops. It was a bittersweet time for the community and for the Coast Guard, as Cooper, Smith and fellow boater Will Bleakley did not survive, but Dominik thanked the troops for their valiant efforts and worked hard to raise their spirits.
Dominik also has a long-standing relationship with the Bay area's James A. Haley VA Hospital. He regularly leads a group of Buccaneers on trips to the hospital on Veterans' Day, and he and his wife, Amy, have volunteered numerous times at the hospital's charitable dinners. For these visits, Dominik has rallied some of the team's biggest stars into action, including Josh Freeman, Gerald McCoy and Kellen Winslow, helping to impress upon both them and the community at large the importance of expressing gratitude for the sacrifices of the nation's military veterans. In 2010, Dominik hosted a pep rally at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, bringing along Freeman, LeGarrette Blount and Geno Hayes to thank the troops and congratulate the base on a successful training operation.
The MacDill AFB, which recently celebrated its 70th anniversary in Tampa, is an integral part of the Bay area community, and Dominik has significantly strengthened the Buccaneers' ties to the base and its many servicemen and women. Acts of mutual appreciation have become as a result. For instance, the Buccaneers now turn one home date a year into a Military Appreciation game, which has in recent years included a military supply drive, an official military induction ceremony and – to the thunderous approval of the Raymond James Stadium crowd – a surprise halftime reunion between an active member of the military serving overseas and his loved ones in the Bay area. For the base's part, Dominik has been invited to share private, personal dinners with Director of CIA David Petraeus, the former commander of U.S. Forces Afghanistan, as well as U.S. General James Mattis and retired U.S. Navy Admiral Eric Olson.
The list of military outreach efforts goes on for Dominik and the Buccaneers. At each Buccaneer training camp, Dominik invites wounded warriors to view practice from the sidelines, where they are given VIP treatment for the day. At every home game, "Dominik's Den" offers 24 military members front row seats and a chance to watch warm-ups from the field, where he greets each guest with a specially-made Buccaneers military challenge coin, a staple for Dominik whenever shaking the hand of those who've served. He is an auxiliary member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post #4321, for which he now also hosts an annual fundraiser. And he has participated in a tandem skydive jump with Special Operations Command Para-Commandos to experience the thrill, and risk, that military members endure in the line of duty.
As the general manager of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Mark Dominik has championed the cause of saluting and supporting the U.S. Military and its countless heroes. He has directed the Buccaneers' ever-growing efforts in that regard and helped shine the light on military service throughout the Bay area community. For that, he was a very deserving candidate for the inaugural USAA Salute to Service award.