The Browns hosted more than 90 military members, representing all five branches at practice today.
Mike Pettine's opening remarks at his Wednesday press conference had nothing to do with football.
"Before we get started," he began, "just want to take the opportunity on Veterans Day to honor, to thank, to salute all the men and women who have served our country."
Thanking those who serve has been a point of emphasis for Pettine and his staff since he took over prior to the 2014 season. Frequently working with the USO of Northern Ohio – a First and Ten community partner – Pettine's opened the doors to local military members, inviting them out to training camp practices, offseason visits and in-season, closed practices – making this a year-round initiative, not just a holiday one.
Yesterday, on Veterans Day, he opened the doors once more and gave local military members a rare inside glimpse of what goes on at a Browns practice.
"We get an opportunity to give back and honor those who have served for our country," he said. "Any chance that we get to thank them, salute them, honor them, we're going to take it."
All told, members of all five branches of the military were present yesterday, invited by the USO of Northern Ohio. The visit was something that Pettine and his staff personally put together, with the help of the Browns First and Ten initiative, helping the greater Cleveland community. And it's another example of the team's year-round commitment to the NFL's Salute to Service initiative.
For Pettine, not only is recognizing them an obligation, it's an opportunity to get perspective.
"You'll hear military analogies [in football like] 'hey that guys a warrior, hey he's different when the bullets are live,' those kinds of phrases," Pettine said. "It's really meaningless in the athletics context, when they're living it and putting their lives on the line for us so we can enjoy our way of life.
"Any chance that we get to return the favor and in some way thank them, we're going to do it."
Pettine wasn't the only one who embraced yesterday's military visit. Many of the players stayed well after practice, signing autographs, taking pictures and getting to know the esteemed visitors. Joe Thomas in particular stayed well after practice ended, chatting up just about everyone in sight.
"You can just tell by talking to these guys how much fun they had coming out to practice today," he said. "It's really special for them – and it's probably even more special for us."
Another player who could be seen mingling with the military members was Alex Mack, the Browns Salute to Service Award recipient for the second year in a row. He's been a fixture at First and Ten military-related events, supporting military representatives and their families.
Ohio Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Andrew Hance, a lifelong Browns fan, was one of the servicemen who showed up yesterday. Like many of his colleagues, it actually wasn't his first time at a Browns practice since Pettine took the reins.
"It's great that coach Pettine and the Browns are so deeply rooted in the community, and that they want to honor the veterans," he said. "Especially on veterans day, it means a lot to all of us."
About USO of Northern Ohio:
Since 1941, the USO of Northern Ohio has served as a private, civilian 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that receives no direct government funding but relies solely on the generosity of corporations, organizations, and the American people. The USO of Northern Ohio touches the lives of nearly 45,000 active duty, guard and reserve military and their families throughout our 29-county region. For more than 70 years, the USO of Northern Ohio has provided morale, recreation and social services to US Armed Forces personnel and their families through its programs and services. USO Center facilities are located in the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS), Cleveland Hopkins Airport, the NOSC in Toledo and program processing center in Massillon. The network of hundreds of volunteers donates nearly 20,000 hours of service annually in honor of these brave men and women.