Gridiron Greats team up to help Special Ops warriors

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Matt Schwartz
  • 193rd Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
Do the names Mike Ditka, Gale Sayers and Jack Youngblood mean anything to you?

They are gridiron greats - pro football's finest. But even if you don't enjoy the game, you can appreciate how special it is to be the very best at what you do. It requires hard work, overcoming adversity, sacrifice and a whole lot of teamwork.

Come to think of it, it sounds a lot like being in military special operations. That's why as of Nov. 12, Ditka and more than 100 football legends and Hall of Famers are teaming up to support U.S. Military Special Operations personnel and their families through the Special Operations Warrior Foundation.

The game plan is relatively simple: The Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund, spearheaded by Hall of Fame tight end Mike Ditka, was looking for a local charity to include in its efforts to raise money for GGAF during the week leading up to the Super Bowl XLIII, Feb. 1, 2009 in Tampa, Fla. He didn't bat an eyelash upon hearing about the Special Operations Warrior Foundation.

"Both the special operations community and the Gridiron Greats share a bond of brotherhood like no other," said Ditka, board member of the GGAF. "It is with this strong sense of spirit that retired professional football players and special operations vow to take care of their own and have formed this very special relationship."

The week leading up to the Super Bowl, there will be a series of events in the Tampa area to support the GGAF and the SOWF, highlighted by memorabilia auctions. The100 gridiron legends will donate two items each, one for GGAF and one for SOWF.

"Even in these troubled times and in spite of many of the Gridiron Greats having their own dire needs, these players are reaching out to support their own but also the SOWF. We are confident that a significant amount of funds and awareness will be raised for both organizations," said Jennifer Smith, executive director, Gridiron Greats.

This is great news to an organization like SOWF that is eager to score a touchdown with these much needed funds.

After the 1980 failed attempt to free hostages of the Iranian embassy, the Col. Arthur D. "Bull" Simmons Scholarship Fund was created to help provide college educations to the 17 children of the nine men killed. Twenty-eight-years later, the Special Operations Warrior Foundation continues the tradition of helping the children of fallen or injured soldiers, airmen, seamen and marines of Special Operations.

"These great Americans are reaching out to give their support to the children of fallen America's Special Operations troops," said retired Air Force Col. John Carney, SOWF president. "The actions of the Gridiron Greats players speaks volumes of their character."

But like any great team, members of the special operations community are not casually sitting on the sidelines waiting for Ditka and friends to make a great play.

Airmen from the 193rd Special Operations Wing, Middletown, Pa., eagerly took the ball and ran with it during their annual golf tournament and SOWF Benefit Pig Roast. The wing was able to raise more than $12,000 and presented the checks to Colonel Carney, Ditka and Youngblood during ceremonies here.

"The money that the 193rd has raised this year and in the past is just a small portion of what the (Special Operations) Warrior Foundation needs," said Capt. Dave Earhart, pilot at the 193rd SOW. "Seeing these sports legends raise their hands to help families of fallen members of the SOF community-is impressive to say the least. Together we are going to make a difference."

After the presentation, many participants took a tour of a 193rd SOW aircraft to better understand the mission of this one-of-a-kind unit. The unique aircraft called Commando Solo is a piece of that team the Gridiron Greats are reaching out to help support.

"Whether they knew the 193rd mission or not, I think they have a better understanding of what role we take both civilly and in combat. It is a truly unique mission," said Earhart.

And so is the new mission of GGAF and SOWF where they are driving as a team into the end zone to score a victory for the special operations warrior family.

For more information on the Gridiron Greats or the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, log onto their respective Web sites or