The Seahawks welcome their 2017 honored military unit -1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) - through a flag hand-off ceremony with Navy Region Northwest. The Seahawks 12 Flag will be transferred between the two units, signaling a "Change of Command."
Shaquill Griffin stood alongside several of his Seahawks teammates and stared at a long list of characters etched in white on a polished black granite wall. Each name included on the memorial in front of him at Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country, either in combat, training, or accidents.
"You see stuff like that, it makes you appreciate those guys even more," Griffin said.
The 2017 third-round pick was on site at the Puget Sound-area base this week with other members of Seattle's rookie class for the team's annual "Change of Command" ceremony. Prior to JBLM's 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) formally accepting the honor as the team's military partner for this year, Griffin and fellow first-year players were shown around camp by Colonel Will Beaurpere, Commander, who made the memorial wall the players' first stop.
"A lot of us have a lot of respect for those guys, they work so hard," said offensive lineman Ethan Pocic. "We just play a game. It's life and death for them."
In partnership with USAA, the Official Military Appreciation Sponsor of the NFL and the Seattle Seahawks, the Seahawks' "Change of Command" ceremony sees a 12 Flag transferred between two military units, signaling a "Change of Command." The exchange mirrors a deep-rooted military tradition where an outgoing commander formally transitions responsibility and authority of a unit to a new commander.
"This great tradition brings to life one event that makes serving in the military truly unique," said Jeff Battle, USAA military affairs representative and Army veteran. "USAA is honored to join the Seahawks and their fans in showing our respect and appreciation for the service and sacrifice of our military and their families."
The tradition started in 2012, when USAA and the Seahawks wanted to find a way to honor service members and at the same time thank them for representing 12s across the world. Now in its sixth year, all five military branches have been celebrated to date, with the 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team the first unit honored and this week in the 1st Special Forces Group, the Seahawks and USAA welcomed a sixth.
"It was a great honor and privilege for the Navy to be responsible for the 12th Man flag," said Rear Admiral Gary Mayes, Commander, Navy Region Northwest, the Seahawks' adopted military unit last season. "We did have the flag under the seas on submarines, we had it on aircraft carriers, so we've had it under the sea, on the sea, and also over the sea. Again, it was a great pleasure, and now we will turn it over to the 1st Special Forces Group — don't screw it up."
On where the 12 Flag might fly while in the hands of 1st Special Forces Group this year, Beaurpere competitively offered: "We will outdo the Navy, I assure you."
Unique for Beaurpere and the Seahawks' honored military unit this year is the fact that 1st Special Forces Group is stationed in the Seattle-area "almost permanently," said Major Allie Weiskopf, Public Affairs Officer, 1st Special Forces Group. Weiskopf said that made this week's ceremony "a big honor" for military members who for so long have been stationed so close to the Seahawks.
"As opposed to other military units that kind of come into the region for two or three years and then leave, the guys from our unit are stationed here almost permanently," Weiskopf said. "So a lot of them are huge Seahawks fans because they've been stationed here five, 10, 15 years, unlike other military services.
"They really are true fans of the Seahawks."
The "Change of Command" offered time for those "true fans of the Seahawks" to interact with some of the players they see in action on Sundays. While they were treated to autograph sessions and meet-and-greets with Seattle's rookie class, many offered appreciation for the work the players do while wearing Seahawks blue and green, words of encouragement that put Griffin in an awkward spot.
"We were doing an autograph signing and they came up to us and said, 'Man, we really appreciate you. Thank you so much,'" Griffin recalled. "But at the same time it's something I wanted to say back to them, that I really appreciate them, because without them we wouldn't be able to play the game we love."
"We needed this," Griffin later reflected of the all-rookies day at JBLM. "We needed this."
Yet regardless of how humbled Griffin may have felt, Weiskopf notes the appreciation assuredly goes both ways.
"It was weird for them when the Seahawks felt the same way back," she said. "I think we drew a lot of similarities between our organizations; we both train hard physically to do something that is for our nation and we definitely look to the Seahawks as a morale booster. They do a lot for the community and they're just an organization that everybody here looks up to as well."
As the only franchise in the NFL to put on such an event and carry on such a tradition, the Seahawks have incited a bit of jealously amongst 1st Special Forces Group's friends across various branches of the military.
"It definitely is a bragging right for our soldiers that they have this special relationship with the Seahawks," Weiskopf said. "… The Seahawks have just always given our soldiers 100 percent."
Now Beaurpere and his unit plan to give equal support back to the Seahawks, with Beaurpere candidly asking for just one small thing in return.
"We will honor you and carry your 12th Man flag through the season, and we are very proud of that privilege," he said. "Now I would only ask one thing in return; get out there and win a championship, will you?"