Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Chiefs support troops during Whiteman AFB visit


— Scott Pioli recalls growing up just north of New York City, in a small town called Washingtonville, not far from Stewart Air Force Base.

All the children from surrounding communities funneled into the same school district back then, including those from the military station. So Pioli had a chance to see firsthand at a young age the sacrifice that servicemen and women — and their families — make on a regular basis.

"It was fascinating to learn and watch how those families watched out for each other, and stuck up for each other," said Pioli, the general manager of the Kansas City Chiefs. "It's a tough life, a tough lifestyle. Then compound that by the reality of today, where people are risking their lives. It's one of the most selfless things you can do."

Pioli joined Chiefs officials, cheerleaders and half a dozen members of the defensive backfield in visiting Whiteman Air Force Base on Tuesday, what would normally be a day off for the players.

They met dozens of troops and their families, signed hundreds of autographs and posed for photos inside a hanger that's used for servicing the A-10 Thunderbolt.

The Chiefs have a long history of supporting the military, going back to their late founder Lamar Hunt, who attended Culver Military Academy during his formative years.

The franchise regularly honors soldiers from nearby military bases, often inviting their families to take part in pregame festivities. There is usually a flyover each game — there's talk a stealth bomber is scheduled for Sunday's game against Denver. And the team organizes frequent visits to surrounding bases, of which there are several within a short drive of Kansas City.

"We live in this world of sports where we talk about being a selfless teammate, sacrificing for one another," Pioli said. "With all due respect, the sacrifice pales to what these people sacrifice, and that's not just words, that's reality, and I saw that. I grew up around that."

Defensive back Jalil Brown understands that, too.

He played cornerback in college at Colorado, just down the road from the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. On several occasions, Brown had the chance to meet young men not unlike himself who were training for a much different path in life.

"Getting out here today is just awesome," Brown said while signing a jersey. "A lot of times these guys are in the background, you don't see what they do, so it's a fun experience for us, and hopefully they enjoy the experience as well."

Tech Sgt. Mark Brown won't soon forget the experience.

Brown, who works in the clinic on base, had already spent 14 1/2 years in the Air Force. He was ready to re-enlist for another 5 1/2 years when he heard the Chiefs were visiting, so he asked his superiors if he could make it official while the players were on hand.

Standing before the backdrop of an enormous American flag, with the players lined up behind him, Brown raised his right hand and repeated the oath of enlistment.

"To get to re-enlist in this kind of atmosphere, with celebrities to us, to get to do something like that is tremendous," said Capt. Randy Livengood, who conducted the ceremony. "Being in the military for 21 years, I've never seen someone enlist like that."

Livengood said the relationship between the Chiefs and Whiteman Air Force Base goes back decades, long before he arrived. The 442nd Fighter Wing even uses the Chiefs' well-known Arrowhead logo as part of their insignia, with a lightning bolt going through it.

The insignia is on the tail of the A-10s, as well as their engine covers, and a large version of it is painted on the hanger floor. It's taboo for anybody to tread on it.

Not that anybody wandered that direction Tuesday morning.

Cornerback Brandon Carr was too busy signing autographs, and defensive back Travis Daniels and safety Sabby Piscitelli were too busy clambering up the metal stairway and peering into the cockpit of an A-10, which flew over Arrowhead Stadium before the Chiefs' game Sept. 11.

"I've never been around the military a whole lot growing up, just on occasions like this. But I love it, you know?" cornerback Brandon Flowers said. "I'd like to interact more with the military, thank these guys for what they do for our country."

Flowers said meeting the troops was an experience he'll always remember.

Lt. Rachel Savage said the same thing about meeting the Chiefs.

"Just coming to know some of the players and some of the cheerleaders and some of the folks who work for the Chiefs, it shows some of the true attitudes behind the Chiefs," she said. "They're very similar to the values we hold in the Air Force. We both hold ourselves to high standards."


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