“I’m still alive. It wasn’t that traumatic. It sounds weird, I know. But it was all a bunch of near-misses.”
More than seven years since the near-misses, those are the brave words of Staff Sergeant John Kaiser, who nearly lost his life on October 16, 2006 while serving overseas on his second tour of duty in Iraq.
On that fateful day, Kaiser was stationed in the hatch of a Stryker, his body situated half-in and half-out of the armored military vehicle. Out of the corner of his eye, Kaiser spotted an enemy mortar round land directly in front of his unit.
“The next thing I knew I was sitting inside the vehicle,” Kaiser said.
The blast shattered Kaiser’s cheek bone, temple, and fractured his skull just behind the eyebrow. Shrapnel from the fallout took out part of his jaw – claiming several teeth in the process – and tore through his eye all the way to the membrane. To top it all off, Kaiser suffered a bullet wound to the shoulder.
“So yeah, it was a great day,” Kaiser joked.
Kaiser, a Seahawks fan who makes his home in Camas, Wash. just 15 miles east of Vancouver, was one of several Wounded Warriors the Seahawks visited across the state and through Southwest Canada during the 12 Tour this past summer. Cornerbacks
“They both kind of changed my opinion of celebrities, of professional athletes,” Kaiser said of Browner and Sherman’s visit. “They were both really sincere. You could tell they were doing it because they wanted to, not because the organization told them to.”
Kaiser’s story consumed both Seattle cornerbacks, but his tale struck a deeper chord with Browner in particular. Kaiser took note, and acted on it. He removed a killed in action (KIA) memorial wristband honoring his fallen comrades from his own wrist, and offered it to Browner. The gesture nearly brought the 6-foot-4, 221-pound “Legion of Boom” corner to tears.
|Army veteran and Wounded Warrior John Kaiser personally gave this to me (He took it off of his wrist). This is a bracelet of his platoon member who didn't make it home. I will wear this everyday and every game so that he will not be forgotten. #humbling #12tour|
“I couldn’t imagine putting my life on the line,” Browner said this week at Virginia Mason Athletic Center. “It’s just something I’m not capable of doing. I was fortunate to be able to go and meet those guys, hang out with his family, and it was extremely humbling that he gave me the wristband of one of his fallen soldiers, one of the guys in his platoon that he went to war with every day.”
The show of respect from Kaiser resonated with Browner, who has donned the bracelet on gamedays at CenturyLink Field. And since their meeting back in mid-July, Browner has made the effort to stay in touch with Kaiser, even in the midst of the NFL season.
One of those moments came on August 6, 2013 – the six-year death anniversary of Kaiser’s fallen friend – when Browner shot a text message Kaiser’s way featuring a photo of himself wearing the KIA bracelet coupled with the caption, “I’m still wearing it!”
“That was really cool,” said Kaiser, who was later invited by Browner to meet him and his teammates on the field following the team’s preseason game against the Oakland Raiders. “It’s just crazy. What really kind of takes you back a step was they were just as much in awe to be hanging out with somebody that went overseas and served as we were to be around them.”
November marks “Salute to Service” month around the NFL and for every point scored during the League’s 32 designated “Salute to Service” games, the NFL will donate $100 to each of its three core, military non-profit partners - the Pat Tillman Foundation, USO, and Wounded Warrior Project® - for a total of $300 per point. Last year – the campaign’s first year – the NFL donated nearly $800,000 as a result.
The call to action is important to Browner, who dubbed his relationship with Kaiser “one of a kind.”
“There are not a lot of guys that will sign up for that,” Browner said. “There are not a lot of guys that will put their lives on the line for the betterment of others. That’s a tough job. It’s the least we can do.”
The Seahawks will salute the various branches of the armed forces with several military appreciation activities scheduled for their game against the Minnesota Vikings this Sunday at CenturyLink Field. For Kaiser and others like him, the month-long recognition the NFL doles out for its nation’s troops goes a long way.
“I consider myself to be doing pretty well with things, but I know a lot of people that I’ve served with, or people that I’ve met who have served who aren’t handling things so well,” Kaiser said. “Sometimes just a little bit of appreciation from an unexpected person can make all the difference.”