Seahawks receivers Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse hyped up the crowd of fans before the Crown Princess departed on a week-long cruise to Alaska dubbed “Sail with the 12s.” A few minutes earlier, fans eagerly waited for a picture or a handshake from current and former Seahawks aboard the Princess Cruises ship.
But no athlete past or present was as deserving of praise as the man who raised the 12 Flag before the ship left Seattle’s Pier 91, John Kaiser, a 10-year Army veteran and Purple Heart recipient.
Kaiser, his wife Tina and their sons Tyler, 7, and Daniel, 16, were surprised with a free cruise after Tina wrote a letter detailing her husband’s service both in the Army and now as a volunteer with organizations that help other veterans.
“I was really surprised,” Kaiser said of learning earlier this month that he had won a trip aboard this cruise. “I thought we were going to the pro shop, and as soon as we walked in the door, there’s people with this big Princess Cruise thing and they were like, ‘Surprise!’”
Two weeks later, Kaiser was mingling with current players Greg Scruggs, Cooper Helfet and Justin Britt, and former players—“the old people,” as Baldwin introduced them—Jim Zorn, Jordan Babineaux and Edwin Bailey, before departing on a cruise with Princess, the official cruise line of the Seahawks.
“It’s always a little surreal, because you watch them on TV, then you start talking to them and it’s like, ‘OK, they’re normal people,’” Kaiser said.
Kaiser, a lifelong Seahawks fan from southwest Washington, first joined the Army in 1997, and served two tours in Iraq. In October of 2006, an enemy mortar round landed in front of Kaiser’s Stryker, resulting in the loss of Kaiser’s right eye, a shattered cheek bone, temple, multiple skull fractures, a broken jaw and a gunshot wound to his right shoulder.
After being medically retired from the Army, Kaiser found a new way to serve, volunteering with Home with Heroes, an organization that, among other things, leads hunting trips for veterans. Kaiser also works with Northwest Battle Buddies, a group that provides service dogs to veterans, including his own service dog, a chocolate lab named Ruger. Kaiser, an avid fisherman, has also been taking veterans on fishing trips and is starting a program called Fishing with Heroes. He plans to lead a fishing trip to Alaska next summer for nine veterans.
“It’s honestly part of my own self-healing,” Kaiser said of his volunteer work. “I love to fish. I was about my son Tyler’s age when I started fishing with my dad, and those are probably the best memories of time spent with my dad.
“I dumped myself back into fishing when I got retired from the Army after I got hurt in Iraq, and I realized it was helpful for myself. Then one of my Army buddies I served with came down for a weekend and I took him fishing, and we both had a lot of fun. He was like, ‘Man, I really needed this, this was awesome.’ It all started with one veteran.”
Kaiser and his family were four of the 3,000 aboard the Crown Princess, many of whom, based on the number of jerseys and on the volume of the “Sea-Hawks!” chants led by Baldwin and Kearse, were Seahawks fans. In addition to enjoying what usually comes with a cruise to Alaska, fans on the “Sail with the 12s” cruise get to interact with players and Sea Gals and mingle with fellow fans.
“Just spending time with the fans is fun,” Scruggs said. “Just being able to talk to them about what we’re doing, about the season, get their perspective on things. Be able to share some time with them. They don’t get to see us much, so it’ll be cool.”
Helfet echoed Scruggs sentiment, noting that players rarely are able to spend time getting to know fans.
“It’s going to be fun,” Helfet said. “Football is over, we’ve got a little break here, so what better way to start it off than a cruise. To get to interact with them on a daily basis, get to know them and make some friends hopefully, it’s pretty cool.”