Buccaneers (from left) Ken Dilger, Todd Steussie and Nate Lawrie watch a bomb-disarming demonstration
When they returned from San Diego in January of 2003 with a well-earned victory in Super Bowl XXXVII, Tampa Bay Buccaneer players were referred to by many as heroes. On Tuesday, several Buccaneers took the time to honor some of the real heroes of our country, the men and women who serve in the armed forces.
Buccaneers Greg Comella, Ken Dilger, Nate Lawrie and Todd Steussie visited MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, touring the grounds and signing autographs for both active members of the Air Force and veterans. The visit was part of the Buccaneers' celebration of Veterans Day, following the Military Appreciation Day events that were held Sunday during the Bucs home game against the Kansas City Chiefs.
The players were greeted at the Central Command Pavilion by military personnel and their families, all of whom were eager to meet their favorite players and get some autographs. Cheering erupted when the Bucs entered the Pavilion, but the players in attendance were just as eager to shake hands with the Air Force members and thank them for their service.
"This visit gave me a chance to thank people who sacrifice a lot for everybody else in this country," said Steussie. "They do something that people often don't appreciate."
Waiting to show the players some common explosives used during warfare were members of the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Unit. Here, several airmen demonstrated how a robotic device is used to investigate suspicious packages and then disarm a bomb, if necessary. The airmen had created a phony package addressed to One Buccaneer Place to illustrate how a potential bomb might be discovered and dealt with. The robot was able to x-ray the package to reveal what looked like TNT inside. Nate Lawrie then helped out by yelling, "Fire in the hole!" before the robot shot water at the fake detonation device in order to disperse the parts of the would-be bomb. The players investigated the contents of the package to find that the parts of the makeshift bomb had been blown in all different directions, essentially disarming the device.
Following their introduction to explosives, the Buccaneers arrived at the Base Exchange, an on-base store that includes a food court and a pharmacy. Here, the players were able to meet some veterans who were on-base to pick up prescriptions or shop where items are sold free of taxes.
Jack Fournier, a former Master Sergeant who retired from the Air Force in 1968, was present to meet the players and get his Buccaneers flag signed. "It was really nice for them to come out here today," he said. "It makes me feel like people acknowledge what we have done."
As a sign of appreciation, each of the players was presented with a Central Command coin, given to them by representatives of General John Abizaid, the commanding officer at United States Central Command. The coin is generally given to soldiers who go above and beyond the call of duty, and those who are special enough to receive one are expected to carry it on them at all times.
The trip to MacDill was a great opportunity for the players in attendance to thank some of the men and women who serve our country.
"I was very excited to come to the base," said Dilger. "It's not often you get a chance to come to an air force base where so much is going on that affects the world."
Greg Comella felt it was honor just to be able to visit the base and express thanks for the services of the military. "I am proud of our armed services," he said, "and I have a tremendous amount of respect for people who sacrifice their lives for our freedom."