Buc S John Lynch (left) called the military personnel at MacDill Air Force Base the 'real heroes' of the United States
The terrible September 11 attack on America has obviously had a profound effect on the nation's military bases. Security has been seriously heightened, work hours have increased and a new focus for all base activities has arisen.
As much as those tragic events have affected the lives of all Americans, they have drastically altered the day-to-day personal lives of the servicemen and women who work on those bases. It's the type of sacrifices that military personnel make without complaint in order to maintain the security of our country.
Take Staff Sergeant Anna Gold of the MacDill Air Force Base in South Tampa.
Gold and her husband, another member of the military personnel at MacDill, had purchased season tickets to the 2001 fall season of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers months ago. Now, they won't be able to use them.
"My husband and I are both military, so we had to cancel out at the last minute," said Gold, who would have attended her first game on September 16, when the Bucs were scheduled to host Philadelphia. Instead, that game was cancelled and the personal lives of the men and women at MacDill were put on hold. "It was very disappointing. We've had plans to go to the Bucs games for months now – we bought our tickets well before the season."
On Tuesday, the Buccaneers came to her.
A contingent of Buccaneer players and officials – including General Manager Rich McKay and players Ronde Barber, Jeff Christy, Russ Hochstein, Brad Johnson, John Lynch, Dave Moore, Shelton Quarles, Mark Royals and Karl Williams – visited MacDill on Tuesday during the team's day off from practices. When they made their rounds through the base's Medical Clinic, they ran into a crowd of appreciative servicemen and women, including Staff Sergeant Gold.
"This has helped," she said. "It's really made my day."
It was, as you would suspect, an uplifting experience for the visitors as well as those working on the base. Players who, like most Americans, have seen their perspectives sharpened and redefined by the terrorist attacks, appreciated the opportunity to meet the men and women who truly deserve the public's adulation.
"The real heroes are here," said Lynch. "(Command) Chief (Master Sergeant Lew) Monroe, when he greeted us, said they were happy to have us here and what we were going to see was some people working very efficiently for what's ahead. That's certainly been the case.
"It's great to see these people and let them know that we appreciate what they do. It's great to see that we have so many Buc fans here. It makes you proud to be an American, number one, and number two, awfully safe to be in America. The efficiency with which they work and the pride they take in their jobs is just exceptional."
Monroe was one of the base commanders to greet the Buccaneers as they accessed MacDill at 1:00 p.m. through a less-frequently-used entrance on the West side. Monroe asked the visiting players to note the resolve in the eyes of the young military men and women, then invited the Bucs to do three things.
"Enjoy yourself, pat them on the back, kick the crap out of the Minnesota Vikings," said Monroe.
The visiting Buccaneers split into two groups and spent two hours meeting the base workers at various posts, including Mission Support, Security Forces, Dental Clinic, Family Practice and the Fire Station. The Bucs actually missed all but one member of the Fire Station, as the crew had left its main office to perform maneuvers before the visiting group arrived.
And that, above all else, is what the Bucs saw for two hours at MacDill Air Force Base on Tuesday: military personnel working long, hard hours, men and women appreciative of a break of a few minutes to meet the high-profile sports personalities of their town. The Bucs' buses were stopped at security points on several occasions, as procedures would demand, and cleared by young men and women in the midst of 12 or 14 hour shifts. Those servicemen performed their security duties, then came onto the Bucs' bus to accept a t-shirt and the players' thanks.
The Bucs distributed hundreds of team hats and t-shirts during their visit, often stopping to sign the items.
"It's amazing to be on the base today and see what these people are faced with defending our country," said Royals. "Yet, they're getting so excited, almost giddy, to get a hat and a t-shirt and a chance to meet some NFL players. As small as that seems to us, we're glad to be able to provide that.
"It's great to meet these people. They're very enthusiastic. From the time we got here, when we were first addressed by the people at this base, it sure makes you feel like what's going on in this country is in good hands. I feel pretty good about that."
As the Bucs' group was shuttled from one post to another, the players had an opportunity to ask questions of the commanders who were serving as the bus 'tour guides.'
"The main question I had was, 'How do people prepare themselves for the possibility that they could be at war and lose their lives at any point?'" said Royals. "To me, that's almost hard to fathom. These people deal with it with such a cheerful heart. To me, that's just amazing – they're the true heroes of this country."
Monroe, who commands the 6th Air Mobility Wing, was pleased to welcome Royals and the rest of the Bucs to the base but was also clearly proud of the men and women who serve with him on the base. He compared the thousands of military personnel at MacDill to the people behind the scenes at the Bucs' offices, the equipment managers and trainers who help the team run smoothly and efficiently.
"It takes a lot of folks to put these guys in the air to do what they do," he said. "Those 18 and 19-year-old men and women are here dedicated to one thing, and that's the defense of our nation. They're true heroes."
And, as the Buccaneers left after a crisply-timed two-hour visit, Monroe was on hand to pass on thanks and see the team out.
"We thank you for taking the time to come out," he said. "It means so much to us to see you take time away from your schedule and come out to see the young men and women (at the base). The one thing we do want you to realize after this visit here is that your nation and your military is ready to defend our way of life. There's absolutely nothing to worry about.