By Jason B. CutshawDecember 21, 2010
FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- Although they may be on different teams, Soldiers and football players understand what it means to tackle obstacles.
Real Warriors Campaign staff members, in partnership with the National Football League Players Association, traveled to Fort Drum last week along with two former NFL players who came to share stories of their experiences, obstacles and challenges in life with Soldiers and their Families.
While at the Commons, the players interacted with football fans, signed autographs and told about their professional triumphs and personal setbacks.
"The response today has been fantastic," said Eric Hipple, Detroit Lions quarterback from 1980 to 1989. "Everybody has been great, and it is nice to talk to a group of people who in some ways we can understand each other with some of the transitions we go through.
"But I just played a game," he continued. "And what these young people do in their deployments and in everyday life is so much tougher. I can only imagine what they have to do, so it is great to come here and be able to speak with them."
Hipple currently serves as outreach coordinator for the University of Michigan Center for Depression, where he works to educate people about depression, suicide prevention and mental illness.
"We understand that early detection and early treatment are keys to getting better," Hipple said. "We want people to overcome the stigma and seek help if they feel they need it, because the support network is there for them."
Real Warriors promotes the processes of building resilience, facilitating recovery and supporting reintegration for returning service members and their Families. The campaign also combats the stigma and seeks to remove barriers that often prevent service members from obtaining treatment for psychological health issues and traumatic brain injury in the same way they receive treatment for physical wounds and illnesses.
"This is a great opportunity to be able to spend time with these Soldiers and speak with them about issues they have," said Freddie Mitchell, wide receiver for the Philadelphia Eagles from 2001 to 2004. "If we reach only one person and maybe help them get the assistance they need, it was worth coming. I am happy I'm here, and when they asked me to come to Fort Drum, I didn't hesitate. It is really special to see how much they love football and how they support their teams."
Mitchell travels around the country speaking and volunteering at youth sports camps and talking with service members and veterans.
"I got a chance to talk with some of the Soldiers since I've been here, and we shared stories about some of the challenges we have gone through," he said. "It was something special, and I am excited to be here and I'll come back whenever I can."
Apart from the serious message they brought, the players mingled with fans at the Winner's Circle and watched part of the NFL games being played.
"What a great event," said Fort Drum Garrison Command Sgt. Maj. John F. McNeirney. "For professional football players, who are role models in their own right, to come and spend some time with our Soldiers here and talk about resiliency, Comprehensive Soldier Fitness, warrior care and seeking help if they need it really meant a lot. I think the Soldiers enjoyed it, and I want to thank (the former players) for taking their time out to come up here and do this."
"This is a great morale builder," he added. "Two things came across: great Soldiers are team members in their own right and now they are sitting down and mingling with professional team players. And then the second part is the camaraderie of sharing stories about dealing with different things, and that is a great opportunity for both the Soldiers and the NFL players."
Other Soldiers present enjoyed the time they got to spend with the players, who not only brought a message of understanding the importance of teamwork, but also understanding the importance of receiving help when needed.
"This is great. We always know the American people support Soldiers, but it is also good for Soldiers to hear that other people who we consider to be superstars sometimes have troubles too," said Sgt. 1st Class Johnny Rowell, 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment. "It is not often that we hear that they go through troubles and deal with some of the issues that we deal with.
"It was also a great opportunity to come here and meet some of the players we watched play the game that we love," he added. "I am a New York Giants fan, and to be able to talk to Freddie, who played for our rival Philadelphia Eagles, about our shared hatred for the Dallas Cowboys was fun. This was great time, and everyone seemed to enjoy it."
The Real Warriors Campaign, sponsored by the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury, is a multimedia public education campaign designed to combat the stigma associated with seeking psychological health treatment and encourage service members to seek appropriate treatment.
For more information, visit www.realwarriors.net or call 866-966-1020.