Tampa Bay Bucs general manager Mark Dominik spent the week at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., receiving congratulatory greetings from his colleagues.
Sure, some offered compliments because of the team's improvements this season and the success of the new players brought in by Dominik. But most offered praise because the NFL and USAA Insurance, the league's official military appreciation sponsor, named Dominik one of the two finalists for the 2012 Salute to Service Award.
Believe it or not, Dominik beamed more than he would have if they gave him accolades for drafting safety Mark Barron and running back Doug Martin.
When the Glazer family elevated Dominik to general manager in 2009, he and his wife, Amy, set a goal of wanting to create programs and efforts that supported the military. Since then, Dominik has spearheaded the $40,000 renovation of a retired Air Force sergeant's home, created a job fair to provide veterans with job placement assistance and help them transition to civilian life, and invited wounded warriors to attend the team's annual nighttime practice during training camp.
The Bucs also host a Salute to Service Suite at every home game, and Dominik invites 24 military members to enjoy front-row seating in his special section, Dominik's Den.
On Saturday, Dominik will learn if he wins at the NFL Honors awards special, which will be televised on CBS.
Dominik spoke to Times columnist Ernest Hooper about the motivation behind his efforts and how they're just a larger part of the organization's commitment to saluting the men, women and families involved in military life.
Of the many efforts you've made to support the military, what's been one of the most memorable?
One that's most memorable is when we do the night practice in the preseason at the stadium. We have patients from the Haley VA Hospital come to the practice, some are active and some are in the reserves. They've suffered brain trauma, there are burn victims and some who have lost limbs because of explosive devices. We bring about 15 to 20 people to that practice and we also recognize the nurses and doctors who help the veterans. To know that (up to) 20,000 people can see how these vets are growing and rehabbing and that Haley is making their lives better is really rewarding.
I know you have family members who were in the military. How much does that influence your efforts?
My grandfather served in World War I. I have his discharge papers and he received $118 and a note saying thanks for your service. It's neat. I guess that might have been a lot of money back then. My brother and father served in the Navy. So growing up, we were all passionate about the service. And my wife, Amy, grew up an Army brat. Her father was in the Army for 20 years and after that he served in the Army Corps of Engineers.
In the course of this conversation, you've already mentioned your wife, Amy, three or four times. She's also a big part of this, isn't she?
Because she grew up in a military family, she understands it. She's come to a lot of the events. Part of this is wanting to show our children what we should be doing. We want to find a way to help raise their awareness.
I know you've also staged a number of reunions where spouses returning from a deployment surprise their families. Tell me about the emotion you feel when you see one of those reunions.
I think wives and husbands might be starting to catch on to us. But the first one a couple of years ago, she didn't think her husband would be back home for another month. She thought we brought her and the family just to see a video message. Sure enough, he comes running down the steps and her face just exploded. He was just crying and just trying to get to his family. That's an emotional moment for everyone in the stadium. Whenever you have a platform for uplifting the men and women in the military and a chance to raise awareness of the sacrifices the men and women back home make, you should use it.
How did you feel when you saw the commercial touting you as one of the finalists?
It was great. The timing was a little surprising, playing it when they played it, but I've received a lot of email and texts. To walk around and hear some of the statements and compliments from the military people in our community, it's been really great. They feel like Tampa Bay has made them proud, and that's what we're trying to do — raise the awareness of the entire community.
Supporting the military means a lot to you, but really, your efforts are just a reflection of the community. Tampa Bay really cares about the military, doesn't it?
We did the Salute to Service Suite. Every game we put men and women of the military in a suite to salute them during the game. Every week, we play a song and everybody in the stadium stands and gives them a big round of applause. Tampa Bay gets it. It's one of the great moments in our games. Everyone stands up and shows that they're standing behind these men and women.
Sunday Conversation is edited for brevity and clarity.