Tag Archives: National Football League

NCO overcomes fear, lands ‘dream gig’ at NFL

By MASTER SGT. GARY QUALLS JR.
NCO Journal

Most Soldiers don’t imagine they will be in a dream job, working in a big-time environment, planning and setting up exciting events, bumping into famous personalities, enjoying every minute of the journey along the way.

Staff Sgt. Kyle Richardson knows that feeling. He is living that seemingly distant dream — in an internship with the National Football League at NFL Headquarters in New York.

“To actually be here, it is almost like a dream,” Richardson said of his high-profile temporary position. “I’ll be walking down the hall and see one of my childhood heroes.”

Training With Industry

Richardson wasn’t going to apply for the internship, thinking he would never be selected, but Sgt. Maj. Kanessa Trent, then the U. S. Army Pacific Public Affairs sergeant major, encouraged him to apply. Now his place of duty is NFL Headquarters through the Army’s Training With Industry program.

The TWI program offers selected NCOs and officers the chance to don civilian attire for a year and work in private industry, observing industry practices, communication tactics and work flow. NCOs who participate in the program say the year not only helps them gain knowledge they will need when they eventually retire from the Army, but also helps them learn tactics that can help the Army. After their year in private industry, NCOs who participate in the TWI program serve in utilization assignments in the Army, using and sharing the knowledge they gained.

Living the dream

NFL headquarters is definitely the “big time,” said Richardson, who works in the NFL’s communication department writing news releases and media advisories, promoting events through social media platforms and ensuring NFL executives have talking points for various public occasions.

“You know what you’re capable of, but so does everyone else there,” he said, adding that many of his coworkers were NFL players for “years and years.”

NFL headquarters is a bustling work environment where crises arise occasionally, and the pressure mounts.

Staff Sgt. Kyle Richardson stands with Green Bay Packers cornerback Jarrett Bush during the Pro Football League Hall of Fame Game in August in Canton, Ohio. (Photo courtesy of Staff Sgt. Kyle Richardson)
Staff Sgt. Kyle Richardson stands with Green Bay Packers cornerback Jarrett Bush during the Pro Football League Hall of Fame Game in August in Canton, Ohio. (Photo courtesy of Staff Sgt. Kyle Richardson)

“It’s not national security or life and limb, but you’re involved in projects that entail millions of dollars,” Richardson said.

The closest to NFL greatness Richardson thought he would get was collecting grass stains on his clothing while calling out the names of NFL legends. He said walking into the NFL headquarters for the first time left him speechless. He said there were few feelings greater than walking in the same footsteps as some of his boyhood idols.

“It’s not the building, decor or people that will leave you breathless,” he said. “It’s that single, personal thought of ‘you’ve made it.’”

The sports-laden and inspiring facilities at the NFL headquarters made an impression. Richardson recalled walking into a part of the building where Super Bowl rings were displayed. He marveled at the long line of history, tradition and the amount of sweat that it took to earn each one.

“That’s a lot of greatness in this spot,” he said, as he described the display case. “Each diamond resembled some Sunday-night lights from some game that millions watched and dreamed to be a part of. And just think about it, I’m here now — where millions want to be, and at the end of my year, I will be a part of the NFL’s coveted history.”

NFL experiences

Richardson has had some uncommon experiences outside of the headquarters as well, such as meeting and talking with NFL stars. On one occasion, he worked at a free concert the NFL sponsored for fans, and Steve Atwater, who earned eight Pro Bowl selections and two Super Bowl rings during his NFL playing days, called out, “C’mon over!” to Richardson. They talked for quite a while.

“He’s a real laid back guy,” Richardson said of Atwater.

The Michigan City, Indiana, native also met and took a photo with one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time — Payton Manning. Manning led Richardson’s favorite team, the Indianapolis Colts, to a Super Bowl Championship.

In addition, Roman Oben — who played in the NFL for 12 years, including on a Super Bowl championship team, and is now the league’s director of Youth and High School Football — often pulls Richardson aside and talks to him.

Most NFL players and former players are approachable, Richardson said.

Changed perspective

The internship has changed Richardson’s perspective on the league from that of a fan to that of an employee who can see all the moving parts of the grand production. For example, Richardson said, there’s a lot more to working a game than merely watching it, such as ensuring the clubs are following league policies and standards, assessing extracurricular activities both in and out of the stadium, providing feedback on stadium traffic and ease of entering and exiting, and even evaluating the concession stands and staff.

“There’s a lot more than glamour and lights when it comes to football,” he said.

Although the corporate world seems far distant from military life, there are some similarities, Richardson said.

For example, being at the right place at the right time is important in both fields. However, corporate employees’ day-to-day schedules are largely their own, as long as they get their projects completed, but they are expected to be on time for meetings, he said.

“In the Army, though, on time is late. Some of the corporate guys show up at the exact time of the meeting,” he noted.

As far as the players in the NFL, they often don’t admit it when they get injured, just as rugged troops from line units will “soldier on,” despite being hurt.

Richardson also noted that NFL rookies and Army privates are treated similarly.

“Both rookies and privates come straight out of high school or college and join a larger organization that helps them prepare,” he said. “The league helps rookies with managing finances, staying out of trouble, health and safety, dealing with the media, planning for their future and just through the whole transition. Army leaders help privates in many of the same areas.”

Lessons Learned

Richardson admitted to making a rookie mistake at NFL headquarters. He wore a pullover with the logo of his beloved Indianapolis Colts to work one day. He was quickly and emphatically told to change his shirt.

“You have to be very neutral here,” he explained.

Richardson has also noticed some differences between corporate America and the Army.

“Here, they operate by ‘big boy rules,’” he said. “They won’t follow behind you, whereas the Army is more directed. You don’t need permission to take off here.”

Another difference is that the work load is spread out more in the corporate world.

“You’re not in anything alone,” he explained. “Projects are really broken down into teams. You rarely do something from beginning to end on your own. In the Army, though, you take on so much sometimes you are overwhelmed.”

Finally, Richardson acknowledged the difference he sees in camaraderie and teamwork between corporate life and the Army.

“Our department is a little better, but a lot of times in the corporate world they don’t have time to get to know each other,” he said. “They don’t have the same kind of camaraderie as we do in the Army.”

NFL’s perspective

The internship through the TWI program has proved to be a valuable experience in which Richardson has learned a great deal, while contributing to the betterment of the NFL.

“He brings a new perspective, based on his Army experience, to the team,” said his supervisor at NFL Headquarters, Community Relations Manager Melissa Schiller.

“He is very on top of everything he’s given, and he has a great deal of discipline,” she said. “He’s very diligent and very adaptable in a job that’s a new experience for him — and different every day.”

Richardson helps the team at NFL Headquarters in building a better relationship with the military, often asking if the military can be invited to events sponsored by the NFL, Schiller said.

“This is a great experience for us as well as for Kyle,” Schiller said.

Maj. Earl Brown, who also participates in the program as an active-duty Soldier, agreed with Schiller’s assessment of Richardson.

“He’s not only willing to jump in with everyone else on projects, learn and continue to fight, but he seeks out projects,” he said.

Brown, who looks at Richardson as his “battle buddy,” says he and Richardson speak a “different language” than their co-workers at NFL Headquarters.

“We can look at each other, and we know what’s going on,” he said.

Brown pointed out that, “what we bring to the table is a sense of duty,” citing how the leadership at NFL Headquarters didn’t have to worry about Richardson reporting for duty at 4 a.m. for his media team responsibilities associated with the NFL season kickoff in Denver.

He said he and Richardson conduct “backward planning” to the “SP” (start point) on media team projects, and he agreed with Richardson that oftentimes the corporate world doesn’t enjoy the tight-knit quality of the Army.

“We communicate,” Brown said. “We’re definitely a ‘fire team.’”

Family perspective          

When asked to compare the NFL experience with Army life, Richardson’s wife, Nancy Richardson, a former NCO herself, quipped, “The TDYs are shorter!”

On a more serious note, Nancy Richardson said another big difference between Army and corporate life is there is really no tie-in to families from the business world.

“At NFL headquarters, there are a lot of single players and employees, and family activities are the last thing they want to be involved with,” she said.

However, Nancy Richardson and other military spouses have tried to start some corporate involvement with families and are hoping those efforts bear fruit soon.

“Sometimes corporate America doesn’t expect NCOs to be that intelligent, so when someone like Kyle shows what he can do, the corporate employees really appreciate seeing that,” she said. “This temporary transition back into civilian life gives him an idea, not just of the work load, but how to look sharp in business attire, how to present himself in meetings, as well as how to network in the corporate world,” adding that it’s reassuring for him to see he can make it in that environment.

“It gives us that spark of hope,” she said.

It also gives him an opportunity to highlight the need to support Soldiers, she said.

Nancy Richardson said her husband was fortunate because he had a good leader in Trent who steered him to the opportunity, but she pointed to a need for wider exposure by the Army of the TWI program.

“We need this program to really help our troops for the future,” she said. “There are incentives for hiring veterans, but not for bringing active-duty Soldiers into these valuable programs.”

Some think TWI leads directly to Soldiers transitioning into civilian life after their training is complete, but — as a former Transition Assistance/Soldier for Life counselor — Kyle Richardson said that is not true. For instance, Richardson’s training with the NFL entailed a commitment of three additional years to the Army.

To Soldiers thinking about applying for a temporary position with the NFL or another industry, Richardson said, “Don’t be afraid. You’ll never know if you can make it until you try.”

“I know that, with this experience, if I were to do something after the military, I would be successful,” he said. “It gives you extra experience and extra knowledge. It’s a resume builder. And they’re not going to allow you to fail.”

Richardson added his Army experience and knowledge has helped his present duty with the NFL.

“I’ve applied what the Army has taught me and, with the skills I’ve learned, it has really set me up for success,” he said. “Now, I don’t fear trying new experiences.”

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, center, stands with, from left, Sean Estrada, former San Francisco 49ers offensive lineman; Jaime Martinez, security officer and Staff Sgt. Kyle Richardson, Training With Industry Military Fellow as they watch Marquil Guice, a recruiter assigned to the United States Military Academy, play a game of Madden 17 against David Romero, a future Soldier, during the first Pro vs. GI Joes video game competition at the National Football League's Headquarters building, Nov. 2. The event kicked off the NFL’s annual Salute-to-Service campaign that recognizes and honor the servicemen and women around the world. (Photo courtesy of Staff Sgt. Kyle Richardson)
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, center, stands with, from left, Sean Estrada, former San Francisco 49ers offensive lineman; Jaime Martinez, security officer and Staff Sgt. Kyle Richardson, Training With Industry Military Fellow as they watch Marquil Guice, a recruiter assigned to the United States Military Academy, play a game of Madden 17 against David Romero, a future Soldier, during the first Pro vs. GI Joes video game competition at the National Football League’s Headquarters building, Nov. 2. The event kicked off the NFL’s annual Salute-to-Service campaign that recognizes and honor the servicemen and women around the world. (Photo courtesy of Staff Sgt. Kyle Richardson)

This Month in NCO History: Oct. 3, 2009 — A battlefield pledge honored on the gridiron

It was easy to lose sight of former Sgt. Daniel Rodriguez earlier this month on the sideline of Memorial Stadium on the campus of Clemson University in Clemson, South Carolina.

The 5-foot-8, 180-pound Rodriguez was cloaked in an orange hooded smock and was difficult to single out of the rain-soaked mass of mammoth Clemson Tiger football players who were taking on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on Oct. 3 in a highly anticipated college football contest between two Top 25 teams. Why Rodriguez was present during Clemson’s 24-22 win was apparent — he was a special teams star and wide receiver for Clemson from 2012 to 2014. He just missed making the St. Louis Rams’ 53-man roster in September.

But it was more than football prowess and a prime-time matchup that drew Rodriguez to his former school. The date was significant for another reason, the anniversary of a day when Rodriguez’s diminutive — by football standards — frame stood out in gallant fashion.

On Oct. 3, 2009, Rodriguez was involved in the Battle of Kamdesh, one of the deadliest skirmishes for U.S. forces during their involvement in Afghanistan. The fight occurred at Combat Outpost Keating near the town of Kamdesh in the Afghan province of Nuristan. In the predawn hours, a hail of gunfire descended on the outpost, which sat in a narrow valley surrounded by the Hindu Kush mountains near the Pakistani border. A force of about 400 Taliban fighters assaulted the compound from five vantage points in the mountains.

COP Keating was defended by 50 American Soldiers, an Afghan National Army unit and its two Latvian Army trainers. The American Soldiers, assigned to B Troop, 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, had been at the outpost since May. Having faced enemy fire almost daily in the difficult-to-defend complex, the Army had planned its closure. The all-out attack Oct. 3 hastened those plans.

As insurgents targeted the outpost’s mortar pit with a barrage of bullets, others nearly overwhelmed every other spot within the football-field sized compound from their positions in the mountains. A simultaneous attack was carried out on nearby Observation Post Fritsche, which cut off support to COP Keating for most of the day. Taliban forces breached COP Keating and inflicted casualties within an hour of the attack. They wouldn’t be completely driven back until late in the afternoon.

The American Soldiers and their allies fought fiercely in defense of COP Keating, killing an estimated 150 Taliban fighters. Later in the day, OP Fritsche was secured and able to provide indirect support. Overhead, two U.S. Air Force F-15E fighter bombers helped coordinate airstrikes. Eventually, COP Keating was secured.

Eight of the 50 U.S. Soldiers defending the outpost were killed and 27 were wounded in the battle, which lasted 12 hours.

One of the wounded was Rodriguez. A bullet penetrated his shoulder and shrapnel shredded his leg and neck. Like other Soldiers in the unit, Rodriguez stayed in the fight throughout the day despite his wounds. Afterward, a bevy of awards for valor were awarded to survivors of the battle. Two of them — Staff Sgt. Clinton L. Romesha and then-Spc. Ty Michael Carter — were awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military honor. Rodriguez was awarded a Purple Heart and Bronze Star Medal with valor device for his actions. But the recognition didn’t offer consolation for the loss of fellow Soldier and close friend, Pfc. Kevin C. Thomson. Rodriguez befriended Thomson upon arriving at COP Keating. Weeks before the Taliban attack, the pair made a pledge to each other that they would pursue their dreams after leaving the Army. The assault ended those dreams for Thomson and left Rodriguez distraught.

The following year, Rodriguez was discharged from the Army, ending a four-year career that included tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He enrolled at Germanna Community College in Fredericksburg, Virginia, three months after returning home. But the rigor of classes couldn’t ease the scars of combat. Rodriguez turned to drinking to cope with his diagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder. The following fall, he decided to make good on a promise he made to his friend in the rugged Afghanistan mountains.

“I felt like I’d been given this second chance at life,” Rodriguez told ESPN in 2012. “I don’t want to waste it. I don’t want to waste the oxygen that somebody died for for me to have.”

His dream was no small feat — Rodriguez wanted to play football at a Football Bowl Subdivision school. He began the journey to the longshot goal by working out three times a day and sticking to a strict diet. A friend helped Rodriguez create a video showcasing his speed, quickness and soft hands to distribute to coaches throughout the country. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney stood out to Rodriguez among the 50 coaches who contacted him. In the summer of 2012, he scrambled to get his transcripts and eligibility requirements in order to enroll at Clemson that fall and join the football team as a walk-on.

Rodriguez’s determination came to fruition. He played in 37 consecutive games for the Tigers through three seasons. He scored his only touchdown on a 2-yard end-around play against The Citadel in 2013. His college career was dotted with various awards for players who display inspiration and merit.

After graduating in December 2014, Rodriguez went unselected in the National Football League Draft the following spring but received an invitation to play with the St. Louis Rams. He suited up for all four of the Rams’ preseason games but was eventually cut from the final 53-man roster. Despite falling short on NFL aspirations, Rodriguez served as an inspirational story in the run-up to the 2015 NFL regular season. He took to Twitter after his release to encourage others to chase their dreams and cherish the time it takes to reach them.

“I’ll never see this as a failure or opportunity wasted. I encourage all to pursue what you love and make the most of your life on this earth,” Rodriguez wrote.

He returned to his alma mater this month to promote coming book-signing events for his co-authored tome, Rise: A Soldier, A Dream and A Promise Kept. He also discussed the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America Heroes Gala in New York City, a November event at which he will be honored.

Rodriguez currently lives in Hermosa Beach, California. The movie rights to his story have been sold to TriStar Productions.

Compiled by Pablo Villa

Go to 1:30 of the video above to hear Daniel Rodriguez tell his story to ESPN.