TAMPA — Not all heroes wear capes. A lot of them wear camouflage.
The NFL teamed up with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this week to surprise and thank service members at MacDill Air Force Base.
Former NFL stars Cris Carter and Martin Gramatica, who was also a Super Bowl champion with the Bucs in 2003, made three different stops on their tour of the base.
“Giving back to the military, and really working with the military, is something that we have always cared about and supported since the league started,” said Director of Community Relations for the NFL Melissa Schiller. “We wouldn’t be able to play the game on Sundays without the support of our servicemen and women.”
The first stop was a military working dogs demonstration. The former football players, along with a couple of Bucs cheerleaders and mascot Captain Fear, watched from the sideline as Zeno executed a high-risk vehicle extraction.
The guests then moved on to a tour of a B-1 bomber and a KC-135 tanker. While the B1 has the ability to hold tens of thousands of pounds in bombs, it does lack the ability to move around much in the cockpit.
“We complain on an airplane when we get the middle seat,” Gramatica said. “There’s not much comfort on these fighter jets, and these guys never complain, so it gives you a nice perspective, and we thank them for everything they do.”
Conversely, the KC-135 tanker is full of wide open space since it’s primarily used for aerial refueling. The “gas station in the sky” can carry over 200,000 pounds of fuel.
The tour’s final stop took Carter and Gramatica to the Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) Operations Building, where Master Sergeant Chris Ceaser explained how they train military personnel to know how to survive in the most hostile environments and return home with honor.
“Our customers that we serve, for my job in particular, is the most rewarding thing that we get to do because we get to work with them, we get to train side by side with them, and really understand what they go through should anything happen to them — captured, anything behind enemy lines,” said Ceaser.
After a day of behind-the-scenes looks into what it’s like as a member of the Air Force, both Carter and Gramatica were quick to acknowledge the strength and sacrifice it takes to serve our country.
“I think sometimes as citizens we just take for granted all of the luxuries and stuff that we have because of the military that we have,” said Carter. “Even though people say that we’re heroes, it’s different. These are real heroes, we’re just role models.”
Gramatica drew comparisons between his life before coming to the United States and now to show his appreciation.
“You know, I grew up in Argentina. I came here when I was nine, so I know what it’s like not to have freedoms. I thank the military every day for our freedoms here because this is why we have the best country in the world.”
Carter and Gramatica will both be in attendance at Super Bowl 55, and MacDill will have a presence there, too. Their KC-135 will refuel each of the three bombers that are part of the Trifecta Bomber Flyover. The refuel will happen in mid-air before the bombers get into formation and jet overtop Raymond James Stadium.
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