Draft, Rookies Thank Military

June 27, 2008

Draft, Rookies Thank Military

By Brett Grassmuck Staff Writer

Veteran Linebacker Chris Draft played the role of the commander, and the Rams rookies were his troops as Draft led his battalion from the Russell Training Center to Scott Air Force Base to say thank you to the men and women serving the country.

“Anytime you can get the local community onto the military base to spend time with our young men and women and our kids, it’s a win-win situation,” said Colonel Al Hunt, installation commander of the 375th Airlift Wing at Scott Air Force Base. “We had a chance today to take some of the rookies from the Rams, these are folks that are fresh out of college, and they get a chance to come out and see what our men and women are doing out there every day, a small sample of that.”

The idea was a two-prong thought bubble in Draft’s head just five days earlier. While the rookies were finishing their final week of rookie school before a pre-training camp hiatus, Draft wanted to find a way to expose them to more of the St. Louis community.

“Getting the rookies out here was introducing them to another part of St. Louis,” Draft said. “St. Louis is not just Missouri, it’s southern Illinois too. This is our area. This is metro St. Louis. We just got a chance to touch some of our fans, because during the season, we just don’t have as much time. So we gave the rookies a chance first hand for them to come out and see what kind of an impact they can have, how many smiles they can make. It’s amazing.”

Draft also wanted to find a way to give back to the military. He got in touch with Colonel Hunt and the idea quickly became reality.
Following the Rookies meeting on Tuesday, a caravan shipped out of the Russell Training Center, though it looked more like a presidential motorcade with the Rookies and draft piled into four Cadillac Escalades provided by Plaza Motors that were escorted by Missouri and Illinois police to Scott Air Force Base.

Upon arrival, Draft and the rookies were bussed to a smaller version of Air Force One that is used by the first lady of the United States. En route, they also had a chance to sample military cuisine.

“We had fun, first of all, and we learned a lot too,” said Donnie Avery, the Rams second-round draft pick. “We wouldn’t get into Air Force bases or into the first lady’s plane if we weren’t a Ram, so we get privileges as well. It lets you know that we’re very fortunate.”

The group of around 25 Rams players and staff split into two groups at that point, one headed to a weapons simulation and the other to a mock deployment line.

The weapons simulation looks like a large video game with carbon dioxide charged guns shooting at a video screen, but it’s as close to the real thing as you can get without firing live ammo.

The Rams players were put through a desert simulation where they had to defend themselves against an attacking enemy unit using M-16 rifles and M-9 pistols.

“Using real guns that are all pneumatic charged, they had a chance to go up against the adversary,” Colonel Hunt said. “I told them, I’m glad you’re playing football.”
The mock deployment line was a simulation of what military personnel go through prior to heading overseas. The players had a chance to try on all the military gear they would need to take with them including a helmet, flak jacket, gas mask and a chemical suit.

They then had to grab four oversized bags of other needed equipment as well as their weapon and step on a scale. The average weight of the gear they were wearing and carrying was around 110 pounds.

“I don’t think I could ever be in the Air Force, because that’s too much stuff, and it’s hot in that suit,” Avery said.

Then it was time for the Rams to turn the tables and say thank you to the people of Scott Air Force Base. The two groups reconvened at a field where they were met by the Air Force Junior ROTC, the families of deployed airmen and women and a group of airmen and women currently serving at Scott Air Force Base.

The Rams players donned their practice jerseys and separated into stations by position and set up position drills. Avery and the wide receivers taught the group how to run routes while second-overall pick Chris Long and the defensive linemen ran the group through fumble drills.

“They came out and spent the better part of an hour and a half with our kids and our young men and women that are serving and our deployed family members,” Colonel Hunt said. “It just couldn’t get any better. We had a great day.”

Draft served as the drill sergeant, walking around the field, at times with a bullhorn, and encouraging the people participating in the drills as well as the rookies running them.

When the drills were finished, Draft went from commander to coach as everyone knelt around him. He thanked them for allowing the Rams to be a part of their lives Tuesday but also for what they mean to the freedom and safety of the United States.

“I always like hanging out with the kids, but it’s great because we didn’t just get kids,” Draft said. “You couldn’t have asked for a better spectrum of people to just be able to say thank you to. Hopefully the ones that aren’t here will be able to see this and realize that we appreciate what you’re doing, and that while we’re here at the Air Force base, we appreciate all our servicemen and women.”