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Villanueva Deserved Service Award

Craig Wolfley commends the NFL's Salute to Service Award winner, but feels another hero more deserving.

OK, full disclosure here. I am biased. Yeah, a tad bit biased. Mmmm, all right maybe more than a little biased. And maybe I have my tail feathers a bit too ruffled about the whole matter.

But the bottom line - and I mean this wholeheartedly - Doing For is never the same as Doing.

I am biased in my thought process toward Atlanta Falcons Coach Dan Quinn winning the Salute to Service Award from the NFL. Not because Dan didn’t do the magnificent things he’s done for our Armed Forces men and women. He did. And he did it self-sacrificially and with a heart toward the gratitude he feels - as do I, and many of those reading this I’m sure - for the tremendous job our servicemen and women do. 

And further disclosure, I am a father of an Army Captain, a graduate of West Point, one who graduated Ranger School, one who served in harm’s way, boots-on-ground in Afghanistan. So, yeah, there’s more of me in this than I really want to admit.

I have never met Mr. Quinn. I only know him by reputation, which is terrific. I have great admiration for him professionally, and personally because of his outreach to our veterans. The fact he would organize and put together events and gatherings to benefit Armed Forces veterans is to be celebrated by everybody. Because, unless you've “been there, done that,” you and I have no idea what our soldiers standing on the front line endure. 

If you have a family member who has served in harm’s way, you have some idea of the personal sacrifice our military men and women AND their family members suffer. 

You know the haunting, day-by-day fear that creeps around the edge of your consciousness each waking moment, speaking your worst fears in silence. You know the thoughts that race through your mind as you try to go to sleep at night wondering how your son/daughter/husband/wife/mother/father/loved one is doing in a war-torn land on the other side of the world.  You know that pang of fear that bolts inside you when an unknown number pops up on your phone, wondering if it’s from somebody connected to the military, and why would he be calling you? 

You watch the evening news and your stomach churns when you see conflict emanating from an area where you know your loved one is deployed, or there’s a report on the news of a loss of life in the military family (because when one of yours is deployed, you are immediately part of the one big family) that takes your breath away. And you know the grateful tears that rush unbidden to your eyes when you hear the weird noises of a satellite phone connecting you to your son from some desolate outpost on the backside of the earth. 

Yes, I have felt these, too.

And that’s why I can’t fully embrace Quinn as the NFL’s Salute to Service Award winner. 

I am a fan of his, to be sure. Anyone who does the amazing things he’s done for our soldiers is someone I respect and admire and am grateful for their outreach. And any other year I’d high five Dan Quinn and celebrate his "Doing For."

But “Doing for is not the same as doing.” And when there's someone named Alejandro Villanueva up for the same award, well, there’s just no debating it. Everything you, I or Quinn could do for our Armed Forces men and women will never equal the sacrifice of the one doing it.

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Before becoming the Pittsburgh Steelers left offensive tackle, Villanueva was an Army Ranger who had been awarded the Bronze Star, the National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Service Medal, Global War on Terror Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Army Overseas Service Ribbon and the NATO Medal. 

When Big Al, while leading his Combat Team in one of his three tours of Afghanistan, was ambushed by the Taliban and dragged three wounded members under heavy fire to safety, there’s NOTHING any of us can sacrifice, do, give or support that comes anywhere close to what Villanueva did.

What is the price of laying your life on the line? What of Al’s family? His wife, his mother and father? The terror that had to grip them when they learned of Al’s bravery under fire. And there's also the loss Al feels to this day over one of his men succumbing to his injuries after being pulled to the sanctuary of a school, to having come so close to getting everybody in your charge out, only to lose the one. 

This is where the words fail me.

Nothing, no ranting, no raving, no waving of the American Flag is necessary. It’s the easiest call in the world, one with which I would be willing to bet Dan Quinn would agree. 

If it was Quinn's choice, I’m sure he would agree that Alejandro Villanueva should be the NFL’s Salute to Service Award winner. 

Because nothing comes close to Doing.


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