With Saturday being the first time Army veteran Jose De La Barra attended a Redskins Salute event, he didn't know what to expect.
But as soon as De La Barra walked through the gates at Bon Secours Training Center in Richmond with his Army hat on, he was greeted with smiles and gratitude for his service. In addition to being in embraced with open arms, he was in awe from watching his hometown team up close.
The Redskins hosted 150 military members and their families for a VIP Day at training camp on Saturday during Military Appreciation Day, providing those who served the United States a closer interaction with their favorite team and players.
“It definitely means that [the Redskins] have our backs,” De La Barra said. “I see active duty soldiers here and it’s a situation where they’re giving back to the sacrifice that soldiers have made and it’s great to know that they have our backs.”
Redskins Salute and GEICO Military hosted Military Appreciation Day for active, reserve, and retired military service members on Saturday, July 28, 2017, at Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Center in Richmond Va.
Having a sideline view of practice, past and present military got a close and personal view with the action. Once practice ended, Redskin players stopped by the autograph chute to give the American heroes an autograph, picture and a thank you for their service.
Along with having a private tent filled with free food and refreshments, military members in attendance had the privilege to hear offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh and special teams coordinator Ben Kotwica speak.
“It means the world to me and everybody out here,” fullback Elijah Wellman said. “They do so much for us off the field and for this country and stuff like that. Just to give back a little bit that we can, it’s just not even close to being enough. But we do it and enjoy doing it.”
Born in Nicaragua, De La Barra wanted to serve in the United States once he moved to California. Not only was being able to give back to his home country a rewarding experience, he was able to build a lifetime of friendships and earn his college degrees.
When De La Barra, who served eight and a half years in active duty, transferred to Maryland, he immediately shared his passion for football towards the home team. The memories of his first Redskins Salute event continued beyond watching his team playing.
As 11-year Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann made rounds to greet fans and sign autographs, he stopped for De La Barra and signed his VIP pass.
“That’s unbelievable. People would die for this,” De La Barra said. “It’s a great experience, really...Joe Theismann, I mean, he’s a legend. Not just for the Redskins, but for the football world. So it’s great.”
Twenty-four-year Army veteran George Price made a return appearance to training camp after missing 2017’s session due to a knee replacement surgery. The recent Redskins fan was drafted into the 101st Airborne Division, where he served twice, but decided to return as a drill sergeant instructor. His journey took him to Vietnam and overseas to Southeast Asia.
Although Price and his men’s return from the Vietnam war was not appreciated during that time, he is grateful for his moments in the military as well as the fact that he was shown gratitude in Richmond.
“When I first returned from Vietnam, it was a big issue that people didn’t look too highly upon the veterans of that time,” Price said. “As times went on, I enjoyed it...even though it was somewhat strenuous and required a great deal of physical fitness.”
At the conclusion of the Redskins afternoon walkthrough, the team held a reenlistment ceremony for staff sergeant Richard Crites. Crites, who is stationed in Florida, was sworn into the U.S. Air Force with his wife, Stephanie, and his three children holding the American flag.
The Manassas, Va., native also got a surprise visit from rookie running back Derrius Guice, who took a photo with him and his kids, who missed Guice’s movie night event in May. Crites not only felt the occasion was special to share with his family, but that his favorite team was able to hold the ceremony for him.
“The Redskins are a unique part of my family history,” Crites said. “My wife and I, our first kiss was at a Redskins game when they scored a touchdown. We have all kinds of unique experiences. We got to see the Redskins in London when we were stationed overseas in Germany. I mean, it’s just unique experience after unique experience. This is part of my life, and die hard Redskins [fans]. HTTR.”