Atlanta Falcons tight end Ben Hartsock said the military men and women at Fort Gordon had it backward.
Members of the football team were on hand Tuesday to show their support and appreciation to the members of the Armed Forces.
"When we get here it's natural that people want to thank us for coming to visit, but really it's an opportunity for us to thank them for what they do," Mr. Hartsock said. "It's a thankless job they do, and a lot of times they're quickly overlooked."
Transported to the base by UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, Mr. Hartsock and his teammates -- right tackle Tyson Clabo, running back Jerious Norwood, punt returner Adam Jennings and center Alex Stepanovich -- came to commemorate the Sept. 11 observance. The Falcons players, along with eight cheerleaders, ate lunch with soldiers before holding a question-and-answer session at Alexander Hall. An autograph session followed.
Staff Sgt. Mark Sosebee, of Athens, Ga., walked away with a signed Falcons football.
"It gets you motivated," Staff Sgt. Sosebee said. "And it sends a message that other people out of our immediate community care about us."
Cpl. Joshua Lozier, of Louisiana, left impressed with the cheerleaders.
"It definitely improved the scenery," he said.
Pfc. Antonio Crow, who joined the Army six months ago, reunited with Mr. Hartsock, his former Indianapolis Colts teammate. Pfc. Crow's NFL career ended because of a shoulder injury.
"It's awesome, because I know their schedule," Pfc. Crow said. "To take time on their day off to come down and tell us they appreciate us is amazing."
Mr. Hartsock said the Falcons' day was a bit more enjoyable coming off the team's 34-21 season-opening win Sunday over Detroit.
Running back Michael Turner set a team record with 220 rushing yards, while rookie quarterback Matt Ryan threw a 62-yard touchdown pass on his first career throw.
"I think everybody across the board was a little surprised that we came out as fast as we did," Mr. Hartsock said. "That's the way you want it to go every week. You just don't expect it.
"It reaffirmed what we in the locker room had been feeling. We went through the preseason and felt like we're better than we're getting a lot of credit for."
But Tuesday's visit was not about the Falcons. It was about the military.
"It means a lot to come out and support these guys," Mr. Norwood said. "They go out every day and fight for this country. It's a great thing to show them they mean a lot to this country."
Reach Chris Gay at (706) 823-3645 or firstname.lastname@example.org.