Former NFL player to Airmen: 'game on'

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Joe McFadden
  • 1st Special Operations Command
They've deployed countless times to defend their country any time, any place. They are the products of years of training, dedication to duty and professionalism from serving their country.

But were they ready for "game on?"

More than 50 Air Commandos participated in game-based training known as "game-on" during a presentation sponsored by the USO at the Vincent Airman Leadership School auditorium here July 11.

Leonard Wheeler, a former National Football League player and "game on" presenter, guided the audience through a series of group exercises and scenarios aimed at fostering communication, leadership and confidence.

"We are here to share a movement of people," Wheeler said. "One of the things that we do in communications is talk about how do you move people and create games and communications skills that are fun and engaging to where there's total buy-in. We don't use a lot of PowerPoint, but one thing we do is allow people to engage, have the buy-in and to play the games."

Wheeler, who played safety for the Cincinnati Bengals, Minnesota Vikings and Carolina Panthers, said he saw commonalities between how a professional football team and the military conduct themselves.

"First, it's a team environment. It's always a team environment. Coming from the NFL, I know a lot about being on a team. One thing I see whenever we come to a military base is that they're always engaged. They're always focused and have the mission in mind and are always team-oriented."

In addition to being on a team, Wheeler emphasized how both groups seek a common goal.

"They have the same vision: winning," he said. "Even though you have different pieces-- just like the body with the arms, legs and feet--it serves one purpose, and that's to complete the mission together. The hand cannot do what the mind doesn't allow it. It's just like being here on a military base. Even though you have people in different areas, it's one mission making sure we can make this country great by adding some value with our own special gifts."

The program's flier touted "no lectures, no gimmicks, no sing-alongs" in its presentation but rather a series of participative games centered on listening and building trust.

For example, participants like Senior Airman Kier Kablitz, a weather and communications evaluator with 2nd Combat Weather Systems Squadron, engaged in a conversation with Wheeler with the rule to begin his sentence with the last letter of Wheeler's reply.

Kablitz, who said he came to develop his communication skills, said the opportunity was just what he was looking for.

"There was so much interaction," he said. "I had to go through the whole thought process to find the next word, but he reminded me to go slower and take control by listening."

Staff Sgt. Indira Bolanos, a cyber surety craftsman with Headquarters Air Force Special Operations Command, also attended the "game on" event. Like Kablitz, she said she came to partake in professional development and improve her own skills.

"I hoped to gain how to better interact with people as well as learn different aspects of communicating with others," Bolanos said. "I highly encourage people to participate in professional development events like this. You'll be surprised what you can learn by the end of the class. It makes you want to be a better person."

With the "game on" presentation finished, Wheeler said he was grateful to take his message crafted from years of playing football and share it with America's Air Commandos.

"I'm honored and completely in awe of the military," Wheeler said. "It takes not just courage, but a true commitment to be engaged in the military, and I just want to say thank you. You are the real heroes."

For more information on "game on" presentations, visit their website at