With only a month to go before the start of training camp, Tampa Bay Buccaneers Pro Bowl wide receiver Vincent Jackson has remained hard at work in preparation for the 2013 season. Monday morning was no different, as he and a group of athletes tested their agility, conditioning and fitness on the practice fields at One Buccaneer Place.
Well, given that the scene included musical chairs, potato sack races and hula hoop contests, perhaps Monday's workout was *slightly *different from the traditional morning at Bucs headquarters. There was a good reason for the fun and games, however: the Buccaneer star was playing host to children from local military families at the inaugural Vincent Jackson Youth Camp.
"It's perfect for us, just to get some lighthearted games in and get them active," said Jackson. "We know the NFL does so much with NFL Play 60, getting kids outside, trying to do the whole health movement, so we're talking to these kids about not only being good people, being good citizens, but making sure they're eating right, listening to mom and dad, doing their homework, and of course getting outside, exercising and being healthy."
An upbeat group of children from Ballast Point and Chiaramonte elementary schools – both heavily populated with children of MacDill Air Force Base service members – were invited for a fun-filled morning with Jackson, who encouraged physical fitness and camaraderie through relay races and team-building drills. Jackson also spoke with the children about overcoming challenges that they face when their parents are deployed, something with which the wide receiver is all too familiar.
Entering his ninth NFL season, the three-time Pro Bowler has focused his community outreach on supporting military families and children who spend significant time away from their deployed parents. Active in giving back through both Buccaneers events and personal initiatives, Jackson is passionate about raising community awareness on the challenges that exist for developing healthy relationships between deployed U.S. service members and their children.
"A lot of times, you've got a mom or dad who's gone," said Jackson. "Sometimes, we have so much respect and love, which is well-deserved, for the troops that are serving, we forget about what's going on at home. There's a family there, there are kids at home that are missing that parent, [spouses that are] missing that spouse. We just provide support and provide some tools so they can bring a piece of that home overseas, so that troop and that family bond stay intact."
Born in Fort Polk, La., Jackson is the son of two military parents with a combined 25 years of active-duty service. Jackson learned the significance of hard work and self-discipline throughout his adolescence, which included time spent during his parents' service in Phoenix, Az.; Gräfenberg, Germany; and Colorado Springs, Colo.
His perspective broadened even further in March, when Jackson was selected by the country's second highest-ranked military officer – Admiral James A. Winnefeld Jr. – to participate in a USO Tour to the Middle East to greet military stationed overseas. The opportunity was presented as a result of Jackson's efforts to support military families, including a surprise reunion he helped coordinate in December 2012 for Staff Sergeant Austin Story and his family at One Buccaneer Place, as well as the "Jackson in Action" Front Row Fans section at Raymond James Stadium, which provides a special gameday experience for local military families at every Buccaneers home game.
"I tell them my story about my dad being gone at times and how to focus that energy," said Jackson. "Helping mom at home or being a good brother or sister with our siblings or helping out by doing the trash, picking up behind the dogs, those kind of things that just mentally can get them to be like, 'You know what? I can do positive things with that energy and that frustration that's going on from missing your parent."
Jackson has proved to be a perfect fit both on and off the field for the Buccaneers, who are committed to supporting U.S. Armed Forces, both locally and abroad. The team's appreciation efforts include hosting an annual Salute to Service Game each season, as well as honoring distinguished military guests at every Buccaneers home game in the team's Salute to Service Suite. In 2012, the team held the first-ever Central Florida Military Resource Fair, providing more than a 1,000 active duty military and veterans with job placement assistance, medical screenings and health care enrollment.
One of the organization's most prominent military supporters is General Manager Mark Dominik, a 2012 NFL-USAA Salute to Service Award finalist. Dominik has led Buccaneers visits to MacDill Air Force Base, U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater, U.S. Coast Guard: Sector St. Petersburg, James A. Haley Veterans' Hospital, and Bay Pines VA Hospital, as well as help promote disabled veteran home renovation projects, special training camp events, and fundraisers.
On Monday, the team's military appreciation shined through Jackson, who looked right at home alongside his younger counterparts.
"They just want to have fun," said Jackson. "They look for guys to just come out here and give them a little bit of time, and that's what it's about for me."