Today, the NFL and USAA, the Official NFL Salute to Service Partner, announced the 32 nominees for the ninth annual Salute to Service Awardpresented by USAA. Tampa Bay Buccaneers center Ryan Jensen has been nominated for the prestigious honor, which annually recognizes NFL players, coaches and personnel who demonstrate an exemplary commitment to honoring and supporting the military community, as selected by NFL clubs.
Finalists will be announced in January, and the recipient will be recognized at NFL Honors, a two-hour primetime awards special to air nationally on Feb. 1, 2019 the night before Super Bowl LIV.
Jensen grew up with a military background and has always admired those close to him who sacrificed for their family and others. His grandfather, Keith Palmer, served during Vietnam and Korea, and his uncle, also Keith Palmer, followed his father's footsteps serving in the United States Army. In addition to having friends who are currently serving or have served, Jensen's adopted brother, Alec Hatfield, is currently serving in the Marine Corps and has served two tours in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"It's really humbling and it's a great honor to be nominated for an award of this caliber," said Jensen. "It's exciting – for me, family ties to the military have been pretty strong throughout my life. My grandpa fought in Vietnam and Korea and I had countless friends, who I consider family, that joined the military right out of high school. It's been really close to me my entire life, so this nomination means a lot."
The family ties to the military are the reason behind Jensen's extended efforts to acknowledge those who have served, but his involvement increased after meeting three-year-old Cooper. Jensen crossed paths with Cooper one day at training camp with the Baltimore Ravens. Cooper never met his father, who was killed in action, but immediately connected with Jensen because they both had red hair. Even six years after their initial meeting and now hundreds of miles apart, Jensen and Cooper still keep in touch.
Their bond has inspired Jensen to visit Veteran's Assistance hospitals to lighten the spirits of patients and attend the meet and greets with teammates at MacDill Air Force Base and speak with men and women who are currently serving. In April, Jensen attended the 2019 General H Norman Schwarzkopf Military Family of the Year award ceremony. The ceremony, which is hosted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, honors a family from each branch of the military for their integrity, courage, commitment, and service before self.
Jensen is able to fulfill his promise every home game through a community ticket program called "Jensen's GI Joes". During the season, Jensen coordinates with military veterans to express his gratitude for their courage and commitment it took to serve. By sponsoring military veterans and their families, he provides a unique game day experience.
The Salute to Service Award is part of the NFL and USAA's year-round commitment to recognize and honor the military community. Each year, the NFL and its 32 teams come together to honor and support members of the military as part of the NFL's Salute to Service. The league's year-round military appreciation efforts culminate in November with NFL Salute to Service games and other special events honoring veterans, active duty service members and their families.