It's rare for the Cleveland Browns to invite any guests to view their practices during the week – especially with a humongous game coming up on Sunday against the Houston Texans. Media members generally get to peer in for 15 minutes each day.
But on Veterans Day, the organization along with the USO of Northern Ohio overwhelmingly decided to extend invitations to 75 members of our military, from all five branches, to soak in the sights and sounds of a Browns practice. The uniformed men and women also took tours of the Browns' facility, posed for pictures and received an extensive autograph session from players and coach Mike Pettine.
"It's a privilege to honor our veterans and the military with the NFL's Salute to Service campaign," Pettine said moments after meeting with the troops in Berea. "To be able to have that group out at practice to recognize the tremendous contribution that they make to our security, our way of life and the continuation of our way of life is really our pleasure."
"I get that they might be little impressed with us because they are Browns fans and here at our facility for the first time but all the praise should be going to them and not the other way around," continued Pettine. "They are the true heroes and today is the day we honor and thank them. I don't think we can do enough of that as a country."
Alex Mack was named the Browns recipient of the Salute to Service award. Mack's father was drafted by the Army into the Vietnam War and was stationed in Texas. His cousin also served in the Air Force.
Mack said the troops he interacted with truly enjoyed seeing the players practice. Game day is glamour and fun but football practice is how the finished product comes together – similar to how troops train for months before shipping out overseas. The mutual appreciation was evident.
"What the troops do is honorable," said Mack, with his camouflage cast on his left leg. "It can be a thankless job a lot of the time. It's important to thank the military. Veterans have done a lot for our country. Having a day to say thank you is a really easy thing to do."
Veterans like Larry M. Felts, who served 25 years, 11 months and 8 days in the Army and his son Larry E. who is still currently in the Air Force says don't thank them on Veterans Day; thank the families who have lost loved ones.
"I lost my youth serving in Vietnam but I'm still here today," said Larry M. Felts. "But the guys who aren't with us, they gave up everything for this country. That's a true veteran."
Larry E. Felts appreciated the unity the Browns brought to him this Veterans Day.
"To see the Coast Guard and the Navy and the Army all together – we wear different jerseys but we play for the same team," said Felts.
Brothers Brenton and Bradford Clark, who currently serve in the Coast Guard and Army respectively, deflected the attention away from their service, instead focusing all on the Browns.
"We are 6-3!" exclaimed Bradford. "This team is for real."
The Clark's were escorted on a tour around the building, given lunch in the cafeteria and even joined Nathan Zegura on Cleveland Browns Daily on ESPN 850.
The pair of brothers agreed that in a past life, Pettine must've been a military commander of some sort.
"He's just taken charge and really made this a full team – not just an offense and defense," said the brothers together. "Watching from afar, he seems to understand how to bring people together."
The Browns will continue to honor the military on Sunday during the Salute to Service game against the Texans.
God Bless America.