Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be put through some of the offseason drills that NFL players go through? Well, thanks to the NFL, Chicago Bears and the USAA, 50 local military members were able to experience what that felt like by participating in the "USAA's Salute to Service NFL Boot Camp."
The USAA has been partnered with the NFL since 2011 and that partnership looks to be strongly growing. Yesterday's event at Halas Hall, inside the Walter Payton Center, marked the first year that the USAA and the Chicago Bears hosted the "USAA's Salute to Service NFL Boot Camp". However, it has been an ongoing event with other teams for at least a few years now. I spoke to a representative from the USAA about the event and what it means for the Chicago Bears to be partnering to host one of these boot camps.
"Bringing the USAA Salute to Service partnership to Chicago gives us the opportunity to bring Chicagoland area, currently serving and veterans to events like this to recognize their service. The winner of the Salute to Service Boot Camp is going to sit in a box on November 9 to watch the Bears stomp the Carolina Panthers."- USAA Military Affairs Representative
I was told that the hope is for all 32 teams to eventually hold events like this. The boot camp is not all though. This is just the first military appreciation event that the USAA and the Chicago Bears will host as part of their new partnership. Throughout the season, more events will be hosted to help foster an understanding and appreciation for the local military community — bringing that community closer to the NFL and the Chicago Bears (or other teams they may love).
100 members attended the event, but only 50 competed. These 50 members from Naval Station Great Lakes were split up into 10 teams of five. Each team competed in five drills and the winning team won tickets to attend the Chicago Bears vs. Panthers game on September 9, 2023. I walked around the event and kept tabs on all the teams at various times throughout the event. I'll be honest, I thought two other teams were in the running, but it with a 65-yard pass on the books, Team 2 ended up beating out Teams 7 and 8, who I thought were the top two teams.
What I noticed most was how supportive everyone was for one another — not just their individual teammates. You can see Team 2 in the winning photo below as a member of Team 8 (B.H. Harper, III — more on him later) congratulates them on their victory. This seemed to mean more to them than just a chance at winning prizes.
Being able to attend and cover this event was a great experience. I met plenty of great people. Unfortunately, I was unable to interview an actual Chicago Bears fan. The first interview that I did was of Navy ROTC member, B.H. Harper, III. He caught my attention because he ran a 4.59 40-yard dash — that's NFL speed! He is not a Bears fan, but a Baltimore Ravens fan. His favorite player was Lamar Jackson and we joked about who might be faster, Jackson or Justin Fields. He of course chose Jackson, but I said that Justin Fields might not agree with that one. We both agreed it would be fun to see them race.
I also asked Haper if they had time to prepare and train for the event:
"No, they gave us about a week's notice. I am on the ROTC side of base, in the holding unit. We get orders two days a week and then it kind of fluctuates. They were like, hey, if you are interested and want to get off base, come hang out and show off some athleticism. So, I was one of the first ones to sign up. I came out here, tried my best, and gave it everything I got."- B.H. Harper, III, Navy ROTC
Harper went on to tell me that his father was in the army and he thought it was nice to see the community come around military members and show appreciation. He was looking forward to his private tour of Halas Hall and dinner. The dinner was the thing he was most excited about though as he worked a full day out in the heat before coming to the event that started at 5:30 p.m. on August 24, 2023. Here was Harper running his 4.59 40-yard dash.
I also had the pleasure of speaking with Navy participant, Ashley Danielson. Danielson was on Team 7 — the other team I thought might win the event. Her favorite drill was the receiving gauntlet despite her nails causing some problems when trying to catch the ball. Danielson isn't an NFL fan but does like college football and cheers on the Nebraska Cornhuskers. I asked her if she thought her Navy training helped her prepare for these NFL drills and she had this to say:
"Definitely. So we do our own PT (physical therapy) at home, but in boot camp we did some ITE (intense training exercises) like when you do something wrong, you do ITE so all that helped here with the endurance aspect of it."- Ashley Danielson, Navy participant
Overall, this seemed to be an amazing experience for these young military members. It was definitely a great experience for me as well. I hope to be invited back next year. Former Chicago Bears FB, Jason McKie was the speaker at the event as he attended with his father who served. I had the pleasure of speaking to both of them and you can feel the respect that these men have for one another and for those who serve in the military. McKie also did a great job making these young men and women feel very welcome.
If you'd like to find out more about the USAA, check out their site here. Also, check out the BearGogglesOn and my Twitter page for more photos and videos from the event.