By Master Sgt. Gary Qualls Jr.December 14, 2016
For many Soldiers, the prospect of working at NFL headquarters -- planning and setting up exciting events, bumping into famous personalities, and enjoying every minute of the journey along the way -- would seem like a distant dream.
For Staff Sgt. Kyle Richardson, it's a reality; he is serving an internship with the National Football League at NFL Headquarters in New York, and he still finds it hard to believe.
"To actually be here, it is almost like a dream," Richardson said of his high-profile, temporary position. "I'll be walking down the hall and see one of my childhood heroes."
TRAINING WITH INDUSTRY
Initially, Richardson wasn't going to apply for the internship, believing that he would never be selected, but Sgt. Maj. Kanessa Trent, then the U. S. Army Pacific Public Affairs sergeant major, encouraged him to apply. Now NFL Headquarters is his place of duty, thanks to the Army's Training With Industry program.
The TWI program offers selected NCOs and officers the chance to don civilian attire for a year and work in private industry, where they can learn industry practices, communication tactics and workflow. NCOs who participate in the program say they not only gain knowledge that will help them when they retire from the Army, but they also attain skills that can use in the Army.
After their year in private industry, NCOs who participate in the TWI program serve in utilization assignments in the Army, using and sharing the knowledge they gained.
LIVING THE DREAM
NFL headquarters is definitely the "big time," said Richardson, who works in the NFL's communication department, where he is responsible for writing news releases and media advisories, promoting events through social media platforms and ensuring NFL executives have talking points for various public occasions.
"You know what you're capable of, but so does everyone else there," he said, adding that many of his coworkers were NFL players for "years and years."
NFL headquarters is a bustling work environment, where crises arise occasionally and the pressure can be intense. But he said just walking into the NFL headquarters for the first time left him speechless. He said there were few feelings greater than walking in the same footsteps as some of his boyhood idols.
"It's not the building, decor or people that will leave you breathless," he said. "It's that single, personal thought of 'you've made it.'"
The sports-memorabilia-laden facilities made an impression. When Richardson visited a part of the building where Super Bowl rings were displayed, he marveled at the long line of history, tradition and sweat that each ring represented.
"That's a lot of greatness in this spot," he said, as he described the display case. "Each diamond resembled some Sunday-night lights from some game that millions watched and dreamed to be a part of.
"And just think about it, I'm here now -- where millions want to be, and at the end of my year, I will be a part of the NFL's coveted history."
Richardson has had some uncommon experiences outside of the headquarters as well, such as meeting and talking with NFL stars. On one occasion, he worked at a free concert the NFL sponsored for fans, and Steve Atwater, who earned eight Pro Bowl selections and two Super Bowl rings during his NFL playing days, called out, "C'mon over!" to Richardson. They talked for quite a while.
"He's a real laid-back guy," Richardson said of Atwater.
The Michigan City, Indiana, native also met and took a photo with one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time -- Payton Manning. Manning led Richardson's favorite team, the Indianapolis Colts, to a Super Bowl Championship.
In addition, Roman Oben -- who played in the NFL for 12 years and now serves as the league's director of Youth and High School Football -- often pulls Richardson aside and talks to him.
Most NFL players and former players are approachable, Richardson said.
BEHIND THE SCENES
The internship has changed Richardson's perspective on the league from that of a fan to that of an employee who can see all the moving parts of the grand production.
There's a lot more to working a game than it would appear: They must ensure the clubs follow league policies and standards; assess extracurricular activities both in and out of the stadium; provide feedback on stadium traffic and ease of entering and exiting; and even evaluate the concession stands and staff.
As far as the players in the NFL, Richardson discovered, they often don't admit it when they get injured, just as rugged troops from line units will "soldier on," despite being hurt.
Richardson also noted that NFL rookies and Army privates are treated similarly.
"Both rookies and privates come straight out of high school or college and join a larger organization that helps them prepare," he said. "The league helps rookies with managing finances, staying out of trouble, health and safety, dealing with the media, planning for their future and just through the whole transition. Army leaders help privates in many of the same areas."
Richardson admitted to making a rookie mistake at NFL headquarters. He wore a pullover with the logo of his beloved Indianapolis Colts to work one day. He was quickly and emphatically told to change his shirt.
"You have to be very neutral here," he explained.
Richardson has also noticed some significant differences between working in corporate America and life in the Army.
"Here, they operate by 'big boy rules,'" he said. "They won't follow behind you, whereas the Army is more directed. You don't need permission to take off here."
Another difference is that the workload is spread out more in the corporate world.
"You're not in anything alone," he explained. "Projects are really broken down into teams. You rarely do something from beginning to end on your own. In the Army, though, you take on so much sometimes you are overwhelmed."
Finally, Richardson acknowledged the difference he sees in camaraderie and teamwork between corporate life and the Army.
"Our department is a little better, but a lot of times in the corporate world they don't have time to get to know each other," he said. "They don't have the same kind of camaraderie as we do in the Army."
A NEW PERSPECTIVE
"He brings a new perspective, based on his Army experience, to the team," said Richardson's supervisor at NFL Headquarters, Community Relations Manager Melissa Schiller.
"He's very diligent and very adaptable in a job that's a new experience for him -- and different every day."
According to Schiller, Richardson is helping the team at NFL Headquarters build a stronger relationship with the military, and he often asks whether the military can be invited to events sponsored by the NFL.
"This is a great experience for us as well as for Kyle," she said.
Maj. Earl Brown, who also participates in the program as an active-duty Soldier, agreed with Schiller's assessment of Richardson.
"He's not only willing to jump in with everyone else on projects, learn and continue to fight, but he seeks out projects," he said.
Brown, who looks at Richardson as his "battle buddy," says he and Richardson speak a "different language" than their co-workers at NFL Headquarters.
"We can look at each other, and we know what's going on," he said.
Brown pointed out that, "what we bring to the table is a sense of duty," citing how the leadership at NFL Headquarters never had to worry about Richardson reporting for duty at 4 a.m. for his media team responsibilities associated with the NFL season kickoff in Denver.
He said he and Richardson conduct "backward planning" to the "SP" (start point) on media team projects, and he agreed with Richardson that oftentimes the corporate world doesn't enjoy the tight-knit quality of the Army.
"We communicate," Brown said. "We're definitely a 'fire team.'"
When asked to compare the NFL experience with Army life, Richardson's wife, Nancy, a former NCO herself, quipped, "The TDYs are shorter!"
On a more serious note, Nancy Richardson said that another big difference she has observed between Army and corporate life is a there is less of an emphasis on family in the business world, at least compared to the Army.
"At NFL headquarters, there are a lot of single players and employees, and family activities are the last thing they want to be involved with," she said.
However, she and other military spouses have made efforts to initiate some corporate involvement with families and are hoping those efforts bear fruit soon.
She said her husband was fortunate to have a loyal leader in Trent who steered him to the TWI opportunity, but she would like to see wider exposure of the TWI program in the future.
"We need this program to really help our troops for the future," she said. "There are incentives for hiring veterans, but not for bringing active-duty Soldiers into these valuable programs."
While some people may assume that a Soldier who participates in the TWI program will then transition directly into civilian life afterward, that's not necessarily true. For instance, Richardson's training with the NFL entails a commitment of three additional years to the Army.
To Soldiers who are thinking about applying for a temporary position with the NFL or another industry, Richardson offers this advice, "Don't be afraid. You'll never know if you can make it until you try."
"I know that, with this experience, if I were to do something after the military, I would be successful," he said. "It gives you extra experience and extra knowledge. It's a resume builder. And they're not going to allow you to fail."
Richardson added that his Army experience and knowledge have informed his performance at his present duty with the NFL.
"I've applied what the Army has taught me and, with the skills I've learned, it has really set me up for success," he said. "Now, I don't fear trying new experiences."