Uniforms of a different, non-sports kind could be spotted all around the practice field on Day 12 of training camp as the Washington Commanders hosted hundreds of local service members for Salute Day.
"I'm new to the area, and this event is a great way to get involved in the community, to come together with people both in the service and outside," said PO1 Matthew West, U.S. Coast Guard. "It means a lot when we get invited to these types of things."
Building on last year's edition, this summer's Salute Day featured a larger military presence, representatives and family members from a dozen nonprofits, a strong turnout from the Washington Salute program and a number of initiatives to ensure the military community in attendance felt celebrated.
"The sheer number of veterans, service members and their families this year is a testament to how important Commanders football is to our local military community," said Washington Salute Lead Chris Bailey.
As part of the enhancements to training camp, service members in attendance were treated to an updated VIP experience, which included great views from suites and sidelines, a military appreciation shirt and more.
"I'm really enjoying the VIP access and just the resources, the food, the viewing," said Technical Sgt. Jasmin Carson, Air Force who was attending her first Washington Salute event on the day. "Being this up close and personal is awesome and being around so many other military people is also really cool."
Gathering members of the military community for an event like Tuesday's comes with just as much purpose as it does fun and leisure. Former Staff Sgt. Eric Howard feels passionate about the role military community events like the Salute Day can serve.
"Any type of military members, especially members who have been through combat over the last decade, I think it's important for them to feel like they are a part of something," Howard said. "I went through 3.5 years of therapy to help with that transition … We go from always being with our brothers and sisters in arms to none of that once you come back into the civilian world.
"To have things like this, it really helps us."
From the age of attendees to their job in the service to the relationship with the military community, diversity was certainly an element that stood out on the day. All kinds of family members of servicemembers came out to partake in the festivities. Veterans ranged from the newly retired to the 101-year old Lt. Gen. James Hughes who fought in both the Korean and Vietnam Wars.
On the other end of the career spectrum stood the Navy sprint football team. The Midshipmen enjoyed a day off from their own summer training to watch the pros put in the work.
"It's pretty awesome to get the opportunity to get this up close, seeing professionals," said sprint football team captain Nadir Emlemdi. "It's just cool seeing the technique, seeing how we do some things similar and also what we can learn from them, different kinds of drills and stuff."
Following practice, head coach Ron Rivera came over to talk to the squad and offered some words of wisdom. That was one of a few notable post-Salute Day practice moments. Another (and arguably the most endearing) was a special helmet walk involving Our Military Kids, a nonprofit that provides extracurricular activity grants to children of deployed National Guard, deployed Reserve, and post 9/11 combat-injured service members.
Eight families were selected by Our Military Kids to have their kids pair up with a Commanders' player after practice and walk their gear off the field. The personal connection between the military community and the Commanders, not to mention the joy of each of those eight exchanges, captured so much of what Salute Day is all about.
"What I'll remember about this day is just how special everyone has made us feel," said GiGi Bennett, Development Director at Our Military Kids.