FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. — The unwavering resolve of soldiers and the advancements in treating their traumatic brain injuries suffered in combat impressed Titans quarterbacks on Tuesday.
In addition to signing autographs, posing for pictures, and handing out camouflage ribbons attached to NFL lapel pins, the quarterbacks participated with patients in physical, occupational and speech therapy sessions and proudly wore 101st Airborne hats that they received on arrival.
“I was impressed with the technology that the military is using to help these guys with their physical therapy and speech therapy, and just in general, the testing from the concussion, the TBI,” Hasselbeck said. “I was impressed with that because I think it’s a serious issue, not only in the military but also, obviously, in professional sports and youth sports. After today, I feel like they’re leading the way in terms of research and technology and data, and with them leading the way, that’s what’s going to help us help the kids that are playing youth football and youth hockey and soccer and all these sports where you see concussions coming up.”
The NFL and U.S. Army recently announced a long-term joint initiative to enhance the safety of players and soldiers. The partnership will share information breakthroughs and encourage proper care, from identification through recovery, for concussions that occur on the playing fields and battlefields.
“I think it’s great that the NFL and the military are sharing information and working together,” Hasselbeck said. “Doctors and trainers are working together, and I think it’s on us as players to be honest about our injuries and help out our teammates that maybe have injuries by letting our doctors and trainers know if we notice anything.
“I think that was one of the things that I heard recurring today from the military, from the solders saying, ‘Hey, we’ve got to look out for our teammate in the military,’ so to speak,” Hasselbeck continued. “I thought that was great. I feel like I learned a lot in that regard.”
Laura Boyd with the Public Affairs Office of Blanchfield Hospital said the soldiers were “ecstatic to stand beside each of the quarterbacks and explain their recovery process and how it is helping them.”
Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jody Simmons is one example of a patient that hasn’t stopped being a soldier.
Simmons, was a co-pilot gunner in an Apache tandem-seated helicopter that crashed in Afghanistan on April 16, 2011. He survived but suffered severe injuries that required extensive surgical procedures, followed by a rehabilitation process.
The Memphis native entered the center in May determined to recover so that he can accept his next assignment in the Army.
Working with an occupational therapist, Simmons drove a vehicle in a virtual reality simulator as Hasselbeck, Locker and Smith took turns as his gunner. Simmons drove the vehicle and told the quarterbacks, who stood a few feet behind him wearing a special headset and goggles, whether or not to fire the virtual weapon at the people and vehicles they approached.
“Because of my injury, I suffered a visual problem, and doing the simulators here, it allows me to practice proper scanning techniques and be able to accurately depict what I’m seeing, whether they’re friendly, whether they’re hostile, whether they’re carrying weapons systems or not. It also helps with the rehab of the eyeballs.”
Simmons, a “huge fan” since the franchise relocated to Tennessee in 1997, said “all three quarterbacks were great.” He also said the center has helped him “tremendously.” He’s more capable and more calm and able to see better since his treatment began.
Smith said the efforts of the soldiers say “a lot about their character.”
“(Simmons) was in a helicopter crash and had to have some serious reconstructive surgery on his face and eye sockets, and he was trying to do what he can to continue to serve in the military,” Smith said. “I don’t know if I could say I would do the same if something traumatic like that happened to me.”
The quarterbacks also joined soldiers and a physical therapy assistant to undergo multiple balance and hand-eye coordination activities and participated in language and memory exercises with patients and a speech therapist.
Locker, who is rehabbing a shoulder injury, said he drew inspiration from the way the soldiers are bouncing back from their injuries.
“Some of the injuries that we face seem like they are a big deal in our profession,” Locker said, “but there’s people that are dealing with a lot more serious injuries on a daily basis, and they’re making strong efforts in a lot of different ways to try and improve the lives of those people.”
Boyd said some soldiers’ resolve is so strong because of the firm belief in the mission they are supporting.
“We’re just really thankful for all of our soldiers who serve,” Boyd said. “It’s sad to see soldiers dealing with injuries or illnesses, but we’re here to take care of them and help them recover. We’re grateful for the NFL’s partnership with the Army to increase traumatic brain injury research and awareness.”
Salute to Service
Supporting the military is part of the fabric of the Titans and the NFL. This support takes place both at home and abroad, with NFL players and coaches traveling overseas to salute the troops, as well as with team recognition of our servicemen and women at NFL stadiums throughout the year and surrounding Veterans Day.
The Titans will honor service men and women on Nov. 4 with the inaugural “Salute to Service” game, a new program established by the NFL this season. The Titans have a well-established record of honoring members of the military at most every game since the club moved to Tennessee but this is the first year that the league has officially sanctioned a game played near Veteran’s Day as the “Salute to Service” contest.
Titans Owner K.S. “Bud” Adams, Jr. was named the NFL’s inaugural “Salute to Service Award” recipient presented by USAA. The award acknowledges exceptional efforts by members of the NFL community to honor and support U.S. service members and veterans.Through its long standing partnerships and support from our 32 teams, the NFL takes pride in supporting military personnel and remains committed to raising awareness for the sacrifices they make on our behalf.