During his seven-year NFL career, Cleveland Browns linebacker D’Qwell Jackson has traveled thousands of miles to play games, but it was this offseason in which he took his most meaningful journey as a professional.
Jackson joined the 2013 NFL-USO Tour and traveled more than 14,000 miles to bring a piece of America to U.S. troops currently deployed to bases throughout Afghanistan. Jackson made the nearly 10-day journey across the globe just prior to the start of the Browns’ offseason workout program.
“It was an awesome experience,” Jackson said. “I just want to thank the NFL-USO Tour for allowing me and the other guys to experience the opportunity of a lifetime to meet the troops, the men and women that sacrifice their families. I met a lot of people and had a great time.
“Before the trip, I had the greatest respect for the uniform, but actually going over to Afghanistan and seeing what goes on, the equipment they use and how young they are, that was the biggest deal for me. I read about it, and you hear the stories of how young these kids are. They are young, and they’re held in the highest regard in my opinion.”
Jackson said he particularly enjoyed getting to meet Browns fans in the military.
“You don’t know what to expect because you’re going on tour with Von Miller, Champ Bailey, J.J. Watt, the NFL Defensive Player of the Year,” Jackson said. “The Cleveland Browns held their own. They were all over the place. I brought over a bunch of gear, flags, hats, a lot of memorabilia. They were very appreciative of everything, and it was awesome to see Browns fans all the way over in Afghanistan.”
After arriving in Afghanistan in a C-17 plane, Jackson got to fly in a Blackhawk helicopter while flying to visit Forward Operating Bases (FOB) in country with the troops. He also got to experience what a day in the life of a U.S. soldier is like.
“It was all exciting,” Jackson said. “The only thing that wasn’t too pleasant for anyone was wearing the helmet and wearing the vest because it weighs on you. It’s something you have to get used to. After about a day or two, you got used to it, but you just try to soak everything in. The troops interact just like the guys in the locker room do. They all take care of each other. They build each other up. I had my concerns going over, but being around the troops and seeing how calm they were, it made me calm down and just relax and enjoy the opportunity.”
Jackson made the trip with Denver linebacker Von Miller and defensive back Champ Bailey, as well as Houston defensive end J.J. Watt, Carolina wide receiver Steve Smith and Davin Joseph, an offensive lineman with Tampa Bay.
“From the short period of time that we were together, the guys that were part of the tour, we have some type of bond,” Jackson said. “Just to make the trip over there is one deal in itself. They sacrificed some time out of their busy schedules to go over and meet and greet everyone.
“The thing I took most from the trip was the personal stories from all ages, the men and women all the way down to the teenagers, and what they have experienced, how they deal with moving forward and how long they’ve been over. I took everything in as a whole. I enjoyed every aspect of the trip.”
Jackson’s trip to Afghanistan was the latest in a career full of offseason journeys. In previous offseasons, Jackson has joined other NFL players on mission trips to Africa.
“It’s just something that made its way into my life at a time when you have a lot of ups and downs,” Jackson said. “In your life, when you’re down, I figured the best way I could get out of the hole or feel better is to help others. It’s been a common theme building these last couple years. If I could put a smile on a face or I could enlighten a day or build morale with the troops in Afghanistan, it’s definitely gratifying.”