GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba — Professional football players stay busy with traveling during the season, attending training camps away from home in the off-season and constantly maintaining a good physique so when they have free time, they typically spend it with family and friends.
However, some players believe there are other obligations and go beyond the spectrum of their professional career, taking their glory of being a successful athlete around the world to support service members who defend their freedom and right to play the game that so many people love.
National Football League players Drew Brees, starting quarterback for the New Orleans Saints; linebacker Donnie Edwards, of the Kansas City Chiefs and tight end Billy Miller, of the New Orleans Saints, demonstrated their support for the military by participating in a United Service Organization tour at U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, June 27-28.
"We are here to show support to the service members," said Brees, a three-time pro-bowl selection [2004, 2006 and 2008]. "We want to let the service members know how much we appreciate them and what they do."
This is Brees' fourth USO tour. He has been to Kuwait, Japan, Iraq, Afghanistan and now Cuba.
"I have had a lot of family in the military. My two grandfathers served in World War II," Brees explained. "I grew up listening to their stories, so I know what sacrifices they made."
Brees has always helped out the communities in which he has lived. In 2003 Brees established the Brees Dream Foundation, which has raised $4.5 million to support numerous causes.
"As an NFL player, I have the opportunity to show the [service members] that I appreciate them," Brees said. "Everyone loves the NFL, and I know the service members enjoy meeting us."
Some service members were more excited than others, especially those who glue their eyes to a television set to cheer for Brees every Sunday during the fall.
"Meeting Drew Brees is the highlight of my Guantanamo Bay experience," said Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Emily Magnon, a New Orleans native with Joint Task Force Guantanamo. "This is better than fishing."
The three players were able to see many service members and explore most of Guantanamo Bay by having eight different meet-and-greet sessions. Brees also met several Marines when he joined them for a four-mile run the day of his departure.
"We like Guantanamo [Bay] a lot," Brees said. "We have had a chance to shake hands with a lot of service members.
"I always tell my teammates what a rewarding experience it is to go on a USO tour," Brees continued. "I think it is important that football players come down to support the true heroes."
Miller feels strongly as well.
"I think until a professional athlete comes down here to Guantanamo Bay to see the hard work it takes to defend our freedom, some people will take it for granted," Miller explained. "This is my second time on the USO tour. I think to come down here and to be able to see everything is fantastic."
Miller feels that his time spent at Guantanamo Bay isn't time lost from his family; he views it as time gained with service members.
Brees and Miller expect to do well this season by claiming to have a team with a lot of experience. Neither was able to make a prediction of how successful the Saints will be, but Miller is able to tell people how to have a successful fantasy football season.
"As long as you have No. 9 [Brees] on your team, you will have a good fantasy football season," Miller stated enthusiastically.
For more information about Joint Task Force Guantanamo, visit the Web site at www.jtfgtmo.southcom.mil.