Washington Redskins special teams coordinator and U.S. Army veteran Ben Kotwica said the team's efforts to promote our service members remind him of the courage and bravery it takes to defend the country daily.
"When you go to the games and you see the military members on the sideline, it just gives you great thanks for the service that they provide and the blanket of freedom that they provide us in order to do our job," Kotwica said. "Having been in the military, all the men and women that wear the uniform, I've got a tremendous amount of respect for them. "
Born in Chicago, Kotwica would eventually attend the United States Military Academy in West Point, N.Y.
While there, Kotwica would play linebacker for the football program, captaining a 1996 team that would finish the season with 10 wins and its most recent Commander-in-Chief's Trophy that is given to the winner of a triangular series between the service academics.
Upon graduation, Kotwica would become a second lieutenant, serving several tours overseas.
"Aviation was my branch, so I flew helicopters," Kotwica said. "I did a bunch of tours – Fort Bragg, N.C.; Fort Hood, Texas. I went out to Korea. I was in Bosnia. My military service in support Operation Iraqi Freedom No. 2 in 2005."
After his career of service, Kotwica would join the United States Military Academy Preparatory School's coaching staff as defensive coordinator before entering the professional ranks with the New York Jets in 2007.
After working his way up from quality control coach to special teams coordinator for the Jets, Kotwica joined the Redskins on Jan 15.
Guiding a special teams unit that has rebounded from a disappointing 2013 performance, Kotwica has been steadily working with his players while also remembering his roots.
"What catches you in Military Appreciation Month is when you go to the sidelines and you see the men and women in uniform, especially during the 'Star Spangled Banner' and the National Anthem," Kotwica said. "That brings me back to a special place in my mind as that song's being played.
"[Then] I see the men and women in the uniform, and it just gives me a great appreciation for the service that I had for my country and the men and women that I got to serve with and giving me the opportunity to do what I do now."
Against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Nov. 16, the Redskins and USAA continued their tradition of honoring our nation's veterans and active duty military through the team's annual "Salute to Service" game.
Redskins Salute hosted Vice Chiefs of Staff from four military branches at the annual Salute to Service game presented by USAA at FedExField on Sunday, November 16, 2014.
General Larry O. Spencer, Vice Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force, General Jay Paxton, Assistant Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, Admiral Michelle Howard and Vice Chief Naval Officer of the U.S. Navy served as honorary captains, while Redskins players wore special helmet decals representing the branches of the military and coaches wore special sideline gear.
During pregame warmups, Kotwica shared stories with current service members.
"I had an opportunity just to shake hands and say, 'Thank you Navy, Air Force, Army, Marines,'" he recalled. "This area is obviously very proud of the military service and it's well represented from all the branches. That was my opportunity, and just looked eye to eye and shake hands with some of those soldiers and airmen and share some stories.
"It was a great experience."
The night before the game, he talked with fellow veteran Rob O'Neill -- a lifelong Redskins fan and the Navy SEAL who reportedly shot and killed Osama bin Laden.
O'Neill spoke to the team – a moment in which Kotwica said he shared "tremendous insight."
"I thought what he was able to do was tie in his experiences in the military and obviously the important mission that he executed into some of things that we do," Kotwica explained. "I thought that tie-in was very important. I thought he did a great job with that. "Again, just the opportunity to meet a serviceman who has done such great works for our country was pretty cool."