The Oakland Raiders are heroic figures to fans, but on Monday they honored men and women in the United States military who have survived the wounds of war.
The Raiders Foundation hosted the event in advance of Veterans’ Day November 11, inviting veterans from organizations including Sentinels of Freedom, Wounded Warrior Project and Special Operations Warrior Foundation, to spend the afternoon with Raider players and the Raiderettes.
Among them stood leading Raiders players including Charles Woodson, Justin Tuck, Khalil Mack, Taiwan Jones, Jon Condo, Austin Howard, Malcolm Smith, Marcel Reece, Willie Brown, Tony Bergstrom and Derek Carr.
Groups of veterans entered the Raiders training facility and circled around quarterback David Carr as he addressed the room. “This is important to me because I have a number of family and friends that have served and that are currently serving,” Carr said. “So this means a lot to me because I know the sacrifice, the courage and dedication it takes for y’all to do what you do and for that I’m grateful. I thank you for that.”
Army veteran Danny O’Neel, who joined up on 9/11, got hit by an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) in 2006 when serving in Sadr City, a suburb of Baghdad, Iraq. “I have been doing a lot better,” he said Monday afternoon. “I’m helping other veterans, which has been the best therapy.”
Veteran Cristian Valle, who also was injured by an IED, walked into the training facility on prosthetic legs. “The Oakland Raiders is my favorite team and I never thought I would be here,” he said. “This is something special.”
Military family members like Lola McCoy, who accompanied her husband Kahanu, said the outing was therapeutic. “It’s good for him to be around other people and feel comfortable,” she said. “I can’t explain how it feels to see all the warriors who are wounded but still have smiles.”
Many fans began to smile as the players led a chant: “Raiders, Raiders, Raiders, Raiders…” The voices grew louder and louder. The Raiders then took turns shaking hands with each veteran and their family members, thanking them for their service, and autographing footballs and other memorabilia.
The Raiders have a long history of supporting the military by engaging in the National Football League and NFL Players Association annual Salute to Service campaign. The Raiders Foundation executive director Megan King said, “This is our first year putting on the event. It’s our opportunity to launch the Raiders Foundation,” she added. “We are starting by supporting our veterans and their families. The players believe in and support the military.”