MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. --
A football celebrity visited the Combat Center this week to spend time with children during a Youth Sport program and to learn about a lifestyle very foreign to him; the lifestyle of the active duty Marine and sailor.
Tuesday through Thursday, former Green Bay Packers Super Bowl XXXI champion Chris Hayes opened the eyes of Combat Center children ages 7 through 18 to the possibilities in athletic careers through a Youth Sports-sponsored football program called Coaches Solution Innovations at Felix Field. Meanwhile, Hayes’ own eyes were opened to the realities every deploying Marine and sailor experiences.
Hayes, who had never set foot on a military installation before, said he has gained a deeper respect for the sacrifices made by service members and their families.
“People need to see what these people do on a day-to-day basis,” said Hayes, a San Bernardino, Calif., native. “I’m not talking about the watered down stuff you see on the news. I’m talking about the real thing.”
Hayes said his experience sitting in the driver’s seat of a stationary M1A1 Abrams main battle tank painted a vivid picture for him of what Marines go through when in country and in war. He also visited injured Marines at the Robert E. Bush Naval Hospital here.
“I was very humbled by it all,” he said. “Sitting in that tank for two minutes changed my life. Knowing that these people do what they do for my well being and my family, blows my mind. I don’t think civilians realize the full impact of what these men and women do until they experience what I have experienced today. I would definitely want a [service member] fighting on my behalf before anyone else.”
Hayes continued, saying he was both impressed and humbled by the wounded warriors at the hospital.
One service member in particular, Petty Officer 3rd Class Sonny Lemerande, stood out in Hayes’s memory.
“Just standing there talking to him, I saw how much discipline he had,” Hayes said. “I felt like I was in the presence of such dignity. I asked myself ‘how can you obtain such discipline without getting shot at?’ If there was another way to get that discipline, I’d sign right up.”
Hayes said as a professional athlete, he understands the value of strong discipline. To him, football represents more than one of America’s favorite sports. It represents an attitude in life and helps him put his personal principles in motion – principles that promote good work ethic and kind treatment toward others. He said he wishes to share this attitude with youth so they may be inspired to follow their dreams and work hard.
“It has a sense of paying it forward,” Hayes said about youth involvement. “Everybody needs somebody. I didn’t get where I am without someone pouring back into me. God has shown me my gift [football skills] and I want to pour that into these children.”
Joe Rosselli, the youth and community recreational manager here, said Hayes expressed great enthusiasm in furthering professional athletes’ participation in community projects.
“Chris wants to stay involved with this program,” Rosselli said. “He has contacts with other NFL players and he’s going to bring this message back to them. He’s very impressed with the mentality he’s seen in these children.”
Rosselli said he has received much positive feedback from parents and children about the program thus far.
“The feedback is wonderful,” Rosselli said. “The kids are learning and really enjoying it. The coaches are very in tune with the kids – they laugh, they joke and it’s very comfortable.”
Rosselli recalls one comment he received from a mother who has multiple children in the Youth Sports program.
“She said they’re really excited about it,” he said. “She said as soon as they get home, they can’t wait to come back the next day.”
Rosselli and Hayes are coordinating to create a family day aboard the Combat Center which would involve a flag football game between Combat Center children and a team of NFL players, as well as a barbecue and autograph period.
12-year-old Sam Glass, son of Beth and Maj. Michael R. Glass, the officer in charge of the Explosive Ordnance Disposal here, was one of the children participating in the program.
“I like football because it’s a contact sport,” said Sam, who has played the sport for more than four years.
“And I think it’s great that Chris Hayes is out here teaching us everything he knows. It’s really, really cool.”
Hayes closed out the week with fellow Coaches Solution Innovations coaches, parents and children with a barbecue at the Combat Center’s Desert Winds Golf Course Thursday evening.
Hayes said there are a few key ingredients to being a successful, aspiring athlete and he wants Combat Center children to put them in play.
“Believe in yourself,” Hayes said. “Learn how to work hard and be thankful for everything you have.”