By Jim Dresbach, Pentagram Staff WriterAugust 14, 2012
Military District of Washington servicemembers and their Families took a Saturday off from their missions to watch the Baltimore Ravens prepare for their next mission -- the 2012-2013 National Football League season and another run at a Super Bowl championship.
The NFL franchise suited up for a special training camp practice at Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium Aug. 4. More than 20,000 purple-and-black backers -- including close to 3,500 members of the armed forces, veterans and their Families -- packed the lower half of the stadium to observe Raven offensive run-throughs, defensive drills and scrimmages. Military personnel, including Joint Force Headquarters-National Capital Region and Military District of Washington Commander Maj. Gen. Michael S. Linnington, were able to enjoy VIP seating, Raven merchandise giveaways and the opportunity to let loose with a high-five with their favorite Raven player.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh continued his dogged support of the military in his pre-practice address to the mixed crowd of civilians and servicemembers, who included active duty from the Pentagon, Fort Meade and the Fort McNair portion of Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall. After entering the bleachers where Soldiers, Marines, Sailors and Airmen were located, the coach signed autographs, posed for snapshots, shook hands and offered words of support and encouragement.
"You have paid the price," the Raven coach told military members. "The people who couldn't be here today -- the people overseas -- are making a big sacrifice; they are the best of our country. They make the sacrifices to give us the chance to live the life we wish to live back home."
Following a meeting with Harbaugh, Linnington reciprocated the support for the Raven coach and the Raven organization for the five-star hospitality.
"It's great that coach Harbaugh reaches out to the military and is doing a military appreciation day for us," Linnington said. "We love the Ravens, and the fact that he's paying tribute to all of our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines that are deployed. It is wonderful."
High-profile members of the team made brief bursts toward the stands for spur-of-the-moment autograph sessions. Safety Ed Reed, a fan favorite, frequently raced to the end zone seats to begin a mini meet-and-greet with Soldiers at the conclusion of defensive drills. Running back Ray Rice also visited fans and JFHQ-NCR and MDW leaders during breaks in practice.
The Ravens begin their home preseason schedule Aug. 17 against the Detroit Lions, and the regular season line-up commences on Monday, Sept. 10 with a nationally-televised contest at M&T Bank Stadium versus the Cincinnati Bengals.