This story originally appeared in the November 3 issue of the team's Hawk Mail newsletter. To learn more about Hawk Mail, click here.
Leading up to the Seattle Seahawks' "Salute to Service" military appreciation game against the Buffalo Bills, wide receiver Jermaine Kearse was recognized as the Seahawks' nominee for the 2016 Salute to Service Award presented by USAA, which recognizes exceptional efforts by members of the NFL community that honor and support U.S. service members, veterans and their families.
Kearse grew up on Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) just south of Seattle, and launched the 15 to 1: Jermaine Kearse Foundation last summer with the mission of supporting youth in military families to "work hard, persevere and believe in order to overcome adversity and find success through positive choices, experiences and opportunity." His father, Army Sergeant First Class David Kearse, had long been stationed at Fort Lewis.
"One thing that motivates me for military appreciation is the work I do with my foundation and to be able to work with a lot of the youth on the military bases and just be able to give them access that they're not normally able to have and be able to provide opportunities for them to further themselves throughout their life," Kearse said.
Kearse has funded camps and outings getting military kids physically active and exploring the outdoors by doing things such as sponsoring a group of 15 children from military families to attend Western Institute for Leadership Development, along with sponsoring a local youth football and basketball team. Kearse has also facilitated internships and job shadowing for military kids to explore opportunities outside of the military community.
"It's important to me because I grew up in a military family," Kearse said. "These are families who make the ultimate sacrifice to give us the freedom that we have here today. So I think it's important to appreciate those who serve for our country and to understand the sacrifice that they make."
Kearse is one of several Seahawks players with military ties supporting those in the community. Defensive end Michael Bennett, whose father served 10 years in the Navy, was on hand when the Seahawks formally adopted Navy Region Northwest through its annual "Change of Command" ceremony just last month.
"I grew up in a military family … I understand all that you guys do, what you guys go through for your family," Bennett said at the event. "I appreciate your service because without you guys nothing would be possible. All the things we enjoy about America … all of the things we get to do is because of your service, your sacrifice, and we just want to say thank you."
The Seahawks adopted a new military unit for the 2016 season on Tuesday, October 11 at CenturyLink Field in a USAA 'Change of Command' ceremony that saw U.S. Navy, Region Northwest accept the honor from U.S. Marine Corps, Security Force Battalion, Bangor WA.
To honor those who have made those sacrifices, Seattle's game against the Bills on Monday Night Football will host more than 200 local service members, including some that will partake in gameday activities.
Special Forces Staff Sergeant Jonathan A. McLaughlin — who was severely injured by an improvised explosive device on August 23, 2016, while on a foot patrol in Afghanistan — will lead the team out of the tunnel carrying a U.S. flag.
Green Beret Special Forces member and former Seahawks long snapper, Nate Boyer, will raise the 12 Flag prior to kickoff. Boyer served in the U.S. Army's 10th Special Forces Group and was deployed multiple times, including to Iraq and Afghanistan.
"He just brought that courage," defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin, whose father and uncle served in the Army, said of his former teammate Boyer. "He was one of the people that put his life on the line for us. You could just tell in the way he walked and his demeanor that he was a man's man. You could just feel like he was kind of fearless. You could just tell, his presence walking around, you could just feel it off him like he'd been through some stuff and he was a tough guy. A lot of guys wanted to live up to that. He's a hero to me. He's tougher than what I am. I couldn't do stuff like that. But he just walked around and gave a presence like he was tough. We loved him and noticed when he was gone. It's cool he's raising the flag."
Retired Petty Officer First Class Generald Wilson will sing the national anthem, and following its conclusion, representatives from Washington National Guard will conduct a fly-over with two Black Hawk helicopters.
For Monday night, each player has selected a sticker they will attach to their helmet to honor one of five military branches. Kearse and Rubin will each don one representing the Army.
"People that are out there and fighting and dying and willing to put their life on the line for you, that's incredible," said Rubin. "I just respect everything they do. ... I'm happy to be an American."
During halftime, the team will award eight Segways and four ALLY Chair adapted Segways to combat veterans in partnership with Segs4Vets, a non-profit organization that provides mobility devices to severely injured service members from Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.
"I'm so impressed with the culture and warmth they have for the community," Jerry Kerr, founder of Segs4Vets, said of the Seahawks organization in October. "When you meet people that do good things and want to support good work, it's really cool."
Said Segs4Vets recipient Major Allen Acosta: "One of the greatest things the Seahawks do is give these organizations that normally don't have the visibility, visibility,"
The team's retail locations will offer a variety of Salute to Service merchandise throughout the month with a pledge to donate 10 percent of the sales to Segs4Vets. All proceeds from game-used Salute to Service items sold on auctions.seahawks.com will also be allocated to Segs4Vets.
"The family connection with the Seahawks and Segs4Vets is really a profound one," Kerr said. "Our whole goal is to make sure our men and women that have been severely disabled have the tools that they need to re-engage, and to live a purpose-filled, joyful life."