After the first returning soldiers post Afghanistan and Iran, various veterans and friends were moved to serve and help those who were wounded in serving the country, the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) kicked off in 2003. Initially, WWP was founded to provide the injured soldiers with comfort items, but it has grown exponentially to include complete rehabilitation assistance putting the soldiers onto the path to recovery and transitioning back into civilian life. The NFL annually pays tribute to our nations armed forces with its "Salute to Service" campaign in November. This tribute is in honor of the all military branches to strengthen the NFL's and military relationship. Each of the teams honor their local military units with a U.S. Armed Forces insignia decal on every player's helmet. The New Orleans Saints specifically honor the Wounded Warrior project through this campaign with a ticket design and a pre-game on-field presentation.
The club has hosted servicemen and servicewomen to numerous practices, games, other club events and visiting bases, giving them the opportunity for executives, coaches and players to express appreciation to them for their bravery and military service. In 2014, tight end Jimmy Graham is the club's nominee for the NFL's Salute To Service award for his commitment to supporting active military.
Graham's parents both served in the military for 15 years and his guardian Becky Vinson served in the United States Navy. He lived on Fort Bragg, North Carolina for seven years as a child. In 2014, Graham joined two other NFL players for a week-long visit of military in the Middle East. The lengthiest visit took place at "Camp Leatherneck", a 1,600-acre United States Marin Corps base located in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.
"The experience for me was truly life-changing," Graham said. "The personal connection I was able to make is something that will be with me forever. I grew up in a military home and this just makes me more of a patriot. I have more of an appreciation for the little things we have back home each and every day."
For the USO tour, Graham played pickup basketball and football games with the troops. He toured the base, ate every meal with them to boost their morale and emphasize his appreciation for their mission and also visited with wounded soldiers who were unable to take part in the other activities.
To recognize NFC Salute to Service Month at today's game, team captains will wear a special uniform patch and select club personnel will also wear military-themed Saints equipment.
Salute to Service photos from the New Orleans Saints vs San Francisco 49ers game. Photos by Michael C. Hebert. (New Orlean Saints photos)