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Showing respect for those who respect them
JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD – The rush was on, and everywhere Russell Wilson looked he was surrounded by row after growing row of Raiders.
But the Seahawks’ rookie quarterback was smiling. And posing for pictures. And signing autographs. And shaking one hand after another. That’s because these Raiders weren’t those Raiders. They were members of 42 Strike Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division.
The men and women who comprise the Raiders – or ready, accountable, informed, disciplined, experts, resilient, soldiers, as the acronym stands for – had come to see Wilson, three of his teammates, five members of the Sea Gals and Blitz on Tuesday. And the Seahawks’ contingent had come to see the Raiders before they are deployed - an opportunity made possible by Seahawks partner USAA.
“It’s fascinating just to be able to think about the time and the energy that they put into keeping us alive and all of the things they do for us that we don’t even know that they do,” Wilson said. “All of that just to allow me to throw the football and share God’s gift of being able to play football – and throw the ball to Sidney Rice and hand the ball to Marshawn Lynch.
“We wouldn’t be able to do this without them. So it’s amazing to meet these people.”
The amazement was reciprocal. Because in a rookie season when his every move is being scrutinized, analyzed and second-guessed, on this day shouts of “We love you, Russell” punctuated his time with the Raiders.
Wilson and his teammates – defensive tackle Brandon Mebane, middle linebacker Bobby Wagner and defensive lineman Greg Scruggs – will turn their full attention to preparing for this week’s game against the New England Patriots starting Wednesday. But Tuesday was for mingling with the soldiers.
For one of them – staff sergeant Michael Jenson – the quarterback could wait. During the meet-and-greet period that preceded the formal presentation of a game ball, trophy and 12th Man flag, Jenson made a beeline for Mebane.
That’s because he was a two-way lineman at Moses Lake High School. And Jenson’s connection to the Seahawks is even much closer than that. While attending Northwest College, he and wife, Helen, lived in one of the married-student apartments that overlooked the practice fields at the Seahawks’ old headquarters in Kirkland.
“I’ve always been a big fan of the defense, especially the guys up front,” Jenson said when asked about his fascination with Mebane. “They’re the guys that don’t get a lot of the credit.”
Told that, Mebane just shook his head, because he feels the credit needs to go to Jenson and the others in his brigade for what they are about to do.
“I respect these guys for that,” Mebane said.
Mebane actually made a trip to JBLM in 2009 and tied his hand – and legs, and everything else – at the obstacle courses the Raiders run through on a routine basis.
“Looking at it from the outside in, it looks easy, until you do it,” Mebane said with a laugh. “Then it’s, ‘Uh, no, I can’t do this.’ So I have respect for what they do and I appreciate what they do. So I’m glad I came here today.”
So were the Raiders. As Mebane was signing autographs, one soldier hollered, “This is the best thing ever.”
Again, Mebane shook his head and smiled before offering, “I don’t think I have enough heart to do what they do – putting their life on the line. I’m thankful for them and what they do. That’s why I’m happy to do this because what they’re doing is way more than what we’re doing for them.”
The Raiders might be leaving not only the state, but the country, they will, however, be watching the Seahawks as the season progresses.
“I work with satellite communications, so I always have access to the internet,” Jenson said. “So we’ll be tracking all the games to find out what’s going on.”
And while the Raiders might be going – “very soon,” as Jenson put it – they won’t be forgotten, either.
“They’re fans of us,” Wagner said, “but we’re fans of them, too.”