Vincent Jackson has won the Salute to Service Award presented by USAA.
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Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Vincent Jackson has been named one of two finalists for this year's prestigious Salute to Service Award. To Jackson, that alone is a major victory, whether or not the award eventually goes to him or fellow finalist Jared Allen of the Chicago Bears, because it brings significant attention to the cause that is so close to his heart.
"I want to thank the NFL and USAA for their continued efforts to bring awareness to the sacrifices of our service members and their families," said Jackson in a statement released by the NFL and USAA on Wednesday. "I am humbled to even be considered for such a distinction, and I hope that this award will continue to inspire support for those who serve and protect us, both home and abroad."
USAA is the Official Military Appreciation Sponsor of the NFL and it has been naming a Salute to Service award-winner each season since 2011. This year's winner will be announced during the "4th Annual NFL Honors" awards show on NBC on Jan. 31, the eve of Super Bowl XLIX. Each of the NFL's 32 teams nominated a player, coach or team representative to be considered for the award, with Jackson and Allen chosen as finalists for their "exceptional efforts to honor and support members of the military community." USAA will make a donation of $25,000 in the winner's name to military aid societies.
"Since joining the NFL to launch Salute to Service in 2011, USAA has been proud to recognize leaders in the NFL community who honor the service and sacrifice of our nation's military," said Don Clark, assistant vice president of media and sponsorship marketing at USAA, in the NFL's release. "Jared Allen and Vincent Jackson have not only supported military and their families for years through their respective foundations, but they inspired so many others to join their efforts. Either finalist is worthy of this year's Salute to Service Award presented by USAA."
This is the second time in four years that the Buccaneers' nominee has been named one of the two Salute to Service finalists; coincidentally, in both cases the other finalist was the Chicago Bears' nominee. In 2012, former Tampa Bay General Manager Mark Dominik was named to the final two along with Bears cornerback Charles Tillman, the eventual winner. The Salute to Service award went to late Tennessee Titans Owner Bud Adams in 2011 and to Baltimore Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh in 2013.
This year's winner will be selected by a seven-person panel of judges that includes Harbaugh and Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach, a Naval Academy grad. The other five are retired Vice Admiral John Bird, four-time Super Bowl champion Rocky Bleier, three-time Super Bowl champion Chad Hennings, NFL Executive Vice President of Communications Paul Hicks and former NFL Head Coach Jim Mora, Sr. Like Staubach, Bleier, Hennings and Mora all have military ties.
Jackson, who has also been the Buccaneers' "Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year" nominee for the past two seasons, is certainly well-deserving of the award.
Born in Fort Polk, La., to parents with a combined 25 years of active-duty service in the U.S. Army, the self-proclaimed "military brat" experienced firsthand what it means to grow up in a military family. His adolescence included stints in Phoenix, Az.; Colorado Springs, Colo.; and even Gräfenberg, Germany.
Jackson officially launched the Jackson In Action 83 Foundation in 2012 through an editorial published in the Tampa Tribune, where he urged readers to remember and salute those families who have sacrificed for the freedom of the greater good. He was the team's Salute to Service nominee in 2013, as well.
One of the more unique and impactful programs of Jackson's Foundation is a planned series of books beginning with "Danny Dogtags: Dealing with Deployment," which officially hit bookshelves in 2014 to rave reviews from children and families in Tampa Bay and beyond. The Danny Dogtags series aims to provide lessons on embracing the military lifestyle for children in those families.
On October 19 of this past year, Jackson hosted the inaugural Military Moms Baby Shower for 40 expecting or recently delivered military moms from MacDill Air Force Base, Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater, and the Air National Guard. Jackson and his wife surprised each woman with $1,000 in merchandise to help them care for their infant, as well as raffling off thousands of dollars in additional gifts and prizes. That event led up to the foundation's first Military Family Home Makeover, where the home of Staff Sergeant Jessica Fleurimond in Tampa received a beautiful interior redesign in time for Veterans' Day.
The foundation's new programs did not replace previously-established initiatives. In June, Jackson hosted the second annual Youth in Action Camp for children from local military families; the Salute to Reading Program proved to be a tremendous success, inspiring local youths to achieve reading goals with the prize of Buccaneers facility tours and a pizza party hosted by Jackson; for the third year in a row, the "Jackson in Action" Front Row Fans section at Raymond James Stadium provided a special gameday experience for dozens of local military families; and Jackson continues to build on memorable experiences including a visit to Pearl Harbor to greet World War II survivors, a USO Tour to the Middle East, coordinating a surprise reunion for a local military family, and hosting events at MacDill Air Force Base with the support of USAA.