Though he's a 10-year NFL veteran, the background story of three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Vincent Jackson seemingly only began to spread throughout the NFL and the league's corresponding communities when he joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2012.
"If you know Vincent Jackson and you're around him and you see how disciplined he is on the field and off the field, how he prepares for everything, how focused he is when it's time to focus and how passionate he is, then you can clearly see that he had some type of military background," said teammate Gerald McCoy. "And you can see that he's taken a lot from it."
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. Following seven noteworthy years with the San Diego Chargers, Jackson's move to Tampa proved to be the perfect time and environment to focus his passion for supporting those whose path he's walked.
"It makes sense for me to have a foundation where it's something that I had experience with," said Jackson. "I know what the military families have gone through and what they're going through currently, and it's a niche that I thought could use some help."
It was no mistake that on Veterans' Day of 2012, the wide receiver officially launched the Jackson In Action 83 Foundation 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. And it is no mistake that for the second consecutive year, the Buccaneers have nominated Jackson for the USAA Salute to Service Award.
"The work that Vincent does with the military and military families, first off, he's one of them," said Head Coach Lovie Smith. "[It's impactful] for young kids to see Vincent's path that he's taken and for him to have a first-hand look at how important it is."
The NFL Salute to Service Award, presented by USAA, honors an NFL player, alumni, coach or staff member who demonstrates an exemplary commitment to supporting the military community. A complete list of nominees for the award will be announced in the coming weeks, as each team has the opportunity to submit an individual for consideration.
Now in its fourth year, the award is voted on by a blue ribbon panel comprised of former NFL players and coaches who served in the military, as well as NFL and USAA executives. The 2014 Salute to Service Award winner will have a $25,000 donation made in his/her name to the Military Aid Societies of each branch of service by USAA. The award's two finalists will be announced during the postseason and the 2014 award recipient will be announced at the NFL Honors awards show the night prior to Super Bowl XLIX in Arizona.
Though not one for self-promotion, the admittedly private Jackson – with guidance and support from his wife, Lindsey – took pen to paper over the past year and a half for a unique and impactful project that would not only serve as an outlet for the challenges he faced as a military child, but hopefully support the lives of a younger generation enduring the same experiences. Danny Dogtags: Dealing with Deployment, officially hit bookshelves in 2014 to rave reviews from children and families in Tampa Bay and beyond, and will hopefully serve as the first in a series of stories written by Jackson about the main character, Danny Dogtags, and lessons on embracing the military lifestyle.
"Vincent does so much on that military base and it's so targeted to the base, but it's really aimed at that 16,000 dependents, and that's what's really nice," said Chase Stockon, Honorable Vice Commander at MacDill Air Force Base. "To have somebody like Vincent who really focuses on those kids and helps to understand deployment and helps to understand that it is all going to work out and it's all good, I think that really helps."
If Jackson's military appreciation efforts began and ended with writing a children's book, many would still laud his charitable nature. Yet on Sunday, October 19, 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. Sunday's 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.
Though Jackson has stayed busy off the
field launching new charitable ventures, the programs haven't replaced previously-established initiatives. This past June, he 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 provides 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.
"They're given such a platform in the NFL to do so many good things," said Lindsey Jackson. "It's nice to see when guys step up to the plate and do something they're passionate about."
To learn more about the Buccaneers' military appreciation efforts, click here.