Life lesson learned

<!--Default NodeId For Charles Tillman is 738190,2003--><A HREF=[PlayerNode:738190]>Charles Tillman</A> is happy to be a rookie the NFL, but realizes there are more important things than football.

Although military metaphors are often thrown out when discussing football, in the end the two couldn't be more different. A rookie mistake on the football field will not cost a player his life, but an error on the battlefield could be fatal.

As Soldier Field is dedicated to the memory of soldiers, Charles Tillman has had his mind on family serving in Iraq. Leading up to the opening of the new stadium Tillman collected autographs from his teammates on a banner supporting the Army's fourth infantry division, which a family friend, Mark Anderson, serves in as a sergeant stationed somewhere near Baghdad.

"He was like an uncle to me," Tillman said.

Anderson happens to be serving in the same unit as Terry McMillon, brother of Bears cornerback Todd McMillon.

Tillman grew up in a military family. His father, Donald, spent 20 years in the army before retiring. His uncle, Shaun Silas, is also an Army sergeant who served in Iraqi before being transferred to Germany in July.

While Anderson isn't expected back home until next March, Tillman already has for both him and his uncle when they return.

"I'm going to throw a big party for both of them," Tillman said.

Along with the banner Tillman is sending hats, t-shirts and a fantasy football magazine in hopes of adding a small escape for the troops.

"I think a lot of the (soldiers), they're down and just a little frustrated," Tillman said. "Their friends are dying, they're lonely and they miss their families. They're tired of fighting and maybe this will just boost up their morale a little bit."

Anderson recently called Tillman and told him that he had been in one of Saddam Hussein's palaces. Anderson has yet to see Tillman play for the Bears, which is something the cornerback became accustomed to throughout his football career.

"He came to all my high school games, all my college games, but he didn't get to come to my draft party because he was over in Iraq," Tillman said.

The adjustment to life in the NFL for a rookie obviously pales in comparison to that of military personnel, who risk their lives on a daily basis.

"You see what you see on CNN and from President Bush, that the war is over, but when you call him, it's remarkable," Tillman said. "He says, 'Forget what they're saying on CNN, it's real in these streets. Everybody's dying.'

"You don't know. One minute you're walking and somebody, one of the Iraqi people, will walk up to you and they've got bombs strapped to their chests. There's lots of suicide bombers. You constantly have to watch your backs. You go out to do your little tour or patrol and they're shooting at you, you're ducking and you're shooting back."

Tillman's military background gives him a different perspective on the courage it takes to be a soldier.

"Sometimes we take what we do for granted maybe this might make a couple of us think twice about we do (for a living)," Tillman said. "Like Pat Tillman (a safety for the Cardinals that gave up playing football to volunteer in the military) gave football and went straight over there and I admire that. It takes a strong man to do something like that, making all that money just to drop it and go over there and fight. A lot of people in this room probably wouldn't do that."

While Donald never had visions Charles following in his footsteps there's no doubt he's proud of his son's accomplishments.

"He's honored, he's blessed, he's happy," Charles said of what his father feels about him playing professional football. "He's not living out a dream through me, he's just happy that I'm even here. His son's in the NFL and everyone's like ‘I saw your son on TV'. I'm never seen this happy, especially on draft day. I thought he was going to cry, he was about to make me cry."


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