June 24, 2004
Warrick Dunn already knew more than most of us about sacrifice, teamwork and caring when he met U.S. troops in Germany last month.
Dunn's mother, a Baton Rouge, La., police officer, was killed while working off-duty prior to his signing with Florida State in 1993. Her oldest child helped raise five siblings from afar while juggling classroom and football duties at FSU - sometimes going home during the season to dish out discipline. FSU's all-time leading rusher with nearly 4,000 yards, Dunn has put together a solid NFL career with Tampa Bay and now in Atlanta. At both NFL stops, Dunn put in place "Homes for the Holidays" - a program that enables single mothers to have a house of their own. He provides the down payment and furnishings.
So it figured that Dunn had a pretty good handle of what these virtues were about when he accepted NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue's invitation to meet members of the armed forces, many of whom served in Iraq and Afghanistan or were about to embark for duty in those countries. Fellow Falcon Keith Brooking, Baltimore Ravens tight end Todd Heap and Tagliabue were also part of the goodwill trip to Wiesbaden Army Airfield, Rhein-Main Airbase and Landstuhl Medical Center, which proved to be more than Dunn ever imagined.
"It was eye-opening for the simple fact that these people who make peons go out there and sacrifice their lives and give us opportunities to live a fruitful life," Dunn said. "We take it for granted our freedom and things that we have. And to hear the war stories opens your eyes to the sacrifices and risks these people are taking for us."
The memory Dunn is likely to hold the longest was his trip to a hospital where wounded soldiers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan were being treated.
"The soldiers in the hospital who were knocked out or had to go through surgery, we were told that the first thing they do when they wake up is ask - 'How are my guys? How is everybody doing and is everybody OK? Can I go back?'
"To hear that they want to go back to battle to be with your buddies, to me that is very commendable. I don't know if I would do the same. But they have some type of bond where, when one goes down, everybody feels it. We have teamwork in football, but that's something very special."
Dunn said he appreciated the chance to talk with the soldiers of 1st Armored Division and 64th Replacement Company, some of whom were just hours away from reporting or returning to Iraq. He signed autographs and talked sports, including FSU football and the NFL, with the troops. He also used the opportunity to learn about their experiences.
"They were ecstatic to be able to meet and talk with us," Dunn said. "Sports is a big part of their lives - a chance to maybe get their minds off the work they have to do. But not nearly as much as we were.
"I'll always remember this experience. It was special for me to be there and be able to cheer those guys up and say 'thank you' and that 'America is grateful for you guys.'"