With his team huddled around him at the end of Wednesday night’s walk through, Rams coach Jeff Fisher’s message wasn’t the usual one about focusing on the next game or the next day’s practice or even what the plan for the next round of meetings was.
In fact, Fisher’s attention wasn’t even focused on the 75 Rams players he brought with him to Scott Air Force Base on Wednesday night. Instead, he was delivering a powerful thank you message to the 22 airmen who had been invited to participate in the team’s walk through.
“He wanted to thank us for serving,” tech sergeant Johnny Martinez said. “He told us that they defend the goal line on Sundays and we defend a country every single day. That was a pretty strong message and we really appreciate his support.”
That support manifested itself into an idea that brought the Rams to Scott Air Force Base for their final walk through in preparation for tonight’s final preseason game against Baltimore.
The idea was hatched a while back, an idea that stemmed from a number of activities Fisher had done with the military back in his days in Tennessee. The Rams contacted the appropriate people at Scott, a base located on the Illinois side near the small town of Shiloh.
Colonel David Almand couldn’t accept the Rams’ request quick enough.
“We are so appreciative of the Rams organization contacting us and the support that we know Coach Fisher has had in other places for the military and as the topic came up, we immediately said yes,” Col. Almand said. “We definitely welcome this organization and doing something for our military members and their families, we just can’t do enough. They are deploying all the time, working hard too. We say thank you all day too but this is a really special thing when they can see how people appreciate their service and sacrifice they make. We jumped on this opportunity.”
Team Scott pulled everything together with perfect aplomb as the civil engineering squad took care of making the field pitch perfect for a NFL practice and the security forces did all of the necessary legwork to get the team and support staff in and out of the base with no headaches.
From the Rams’ perspective, the trip allowed an opportunity not only to say thank you to some of the troops that protect their freedoms every day but also to break the monotony of the preseason and training camp.
All the way around, the night was a win.
“It’s nice to change things up every once in a while,” Fisher said. “The alternative is to go have a walk through by ourselves and then go on back to meetings. But this is nice; this is something they’ll remember for a long time. And also we were able to put some smiles on some people’s faces here that wake up every day and defend our country.”
The night’s activities went well beyond arriving on some buses, going through a standard walk through and then heading back to ContinuityX Training Center.
As walk throughs go, you’d be hard pressed to find a more active and excitable practice the day before a game. And the airmen in attendance weren’t limited to just spectator roles.
In advance of the team’s arrival, Fisher had requested that the leadership at Scott select 22 airmen to participate in the practice, serving as scout teams on offense, defense and special teams.
The process for selecting those 22 airmen – who all got their own practice jersey to take home – was relatively simple according to Major Russ Callaway.
“We actually put that out to our first sergeants who are in charge of the morale for the units and the first master sergeants, who are the senior enlisted folks,” Major Callaway said. “They went out and chose our best and brightest youngsters. We went with most of our youngsters that we wanted to get out there and get an opportunity. They are the ones that do the work, they really do. We manage, we lead but they are actually the ones doing the work.”
Included in that group was Tech Sergeant Martinez, who just so happens to be a lifelong Rams fan. He was born in San Antonio but moved to Los Angeles as a kid and followed in his brother’s footsteps starting in the days of Eric Dickerson and Flipper Anderson.
When the Rams moved to St. Louis in 1995, Martinez stuck with the team and eventually, through sheer happenstance was stationed at Scott, only a stone’s throw away from his favorite team. Since, he’s been able to attend games and practices but never had an up-close experience like the one he had Wednesday night.
Much smaller than opponents such as center
Of course, the admiration that Martinez and his fellow airmen might have for the football players they practiced against Wednesday night is certainly a two-way street.
Rams players and coaches warmed up quickly to the airmen as notorious prankster
Fisher even stepped into the huddle on numerous occasions, calling out plays for the scout team offense near the practice, including some trick plays to fool the defense.
Running back Steven Jackson, the son of a Marine, is never shy about his respect for military members and happily signed autographs and posed for pictures all night.
“It means a lot to be out here, being able to take in this moment in this walk through getting ready for the season as well as giving back our thanks and appreciation for the troops and what they do for this country on a daily basis,” Jackson said. “To be able to share a small part of our day with them is just amazing.”
When the walk through was complete, 75 more troops stepped on to the field and were greeted by a player. The Rams signed their practice jerseys and handed them over to their assigned military member before heading to the sidelines to sign autographs for about 20 minutes for the family members and fans in attendance.
Fisher made it clear it was only the beginning of what he hopes is a long relationship with the local troops.
“We were talking about doing something,” Fisher said. “We wanted to do something with the military. We expressed an interest during the offseason and it all came together. It was a perfect night for it, an opportunity to have a walk through and what better opportunity than to come out and have all the troops participate. They had a blast and it’s something we need to continue doing.”
One of the every day struggles for any branch of the military and any base, especially one where troops are being deployed at high rates such as Scott, is maintaining a sense of morale. Major Callaway and Colonel Almand are just two of the leaders constantly putting their finger on the pulse of their people to make sure they are keeping in good spirits.
“As part of the leadership here, it’s one of our top concerns every day,” Colonel Almand said. “As many people know, we are still at war, we are still deploying at a high tempo, we are still separating military members from their family and it’s tough. Anything we can do to remind them how much it’s appreciated and just keep them going and reminds their families that while it’s hard, it’s important what they’re doing too. It’s what makes our military great too, the appreciation we get through things like this to tell them how much they are appreciated and keep them going. They are amazing.”
On nights like Wednesday, no pulse check was necessary. Their faces said it all.