As Steelers Jonathan Dwyer, James Harrison, Doug Legursky and Brett Keisel entered one of the hangers at the Air National Guard’s 171st Air Refueling Wing in Pittsburgh, you could see the excitement on the faces of those who serve this country, seeing players they cheer for on Sunday afternoons right in front of them.
But for the players, on this day they weren’t the heroes, the ones people look up to. Not even close. It was the men and women in uniform who were the heroes.
“You get to see what they do to protect and serve us and give us the freedoms we have,” said Harrison. “It’s obvious they are the true heroes. We go out here and play a game and we consider it battle. They go out there and put their lives on the line and they don’t come home. I’m going to come home after a game.”
The visit, done in conjunction with USAA, was a part of the Steelers “Salute to Service” in honor of Veteran’s Day. The players were there to say thank you to those who serve the country and learn a little bit more about what they do on a daily basis.
Part of the tour of the base included learning the different aspects of their job, from refueling planes in battle to helping close to home as some members were recently deployed to the New York/New Jersey area to help in Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts.
“It’s a great opportunity and we are so happy they came here,” said Colonel Tony Carrelli, Wing Commander at the guard base. “One of the great things about a guard unit is we are a community Air Force, we are the Pittsburgh Air Force. We are strong to our ties to the community. There is such great support. Any time we can host someone on the base it’s a great opportunity because they are so supportive of us.
“As you walk around the base you see Pennsylvania. The patches have been adapted to show that. We go all over the world supporting missions and people look at us and say you are Pittsburgh.”
The most obvious symbol of Pittsburgh is the Steelers logo and Terrible Towel painted on the nose of one of the KC-135 Stratotanker jets that are used for refueling missions.
“To see the picture on the jet explains it all and how much pride they have in Pittsburgh,” said Dwyer, who has family that served in the military. “It’s a great feeling and it motivates you more to go out and do our jobs each and every day because they fight for us to be able to do what we do every day, wake up and not worry about anything.”
The players got a tour of the jet, with Harrison sitting in the pilot’s seat trying to convince them to let him turn on the jets, to Legursky, Dwyer and Keisel, with his son Jacob, touring the entire plane, including climbing down into a small area and seeing how the fuel is transferred from one plane to another.
“It was awesome,” said Keisel, who has family currently serving and many military veterans in his family as well. “All of these people here are our heroes. They protect us, protect all of our rights. To have the opportunity to and bring my son and show him about these guys and what they do is awesome.”
The team was presented with a photo of the plane, and in return the unit was given a helmet signed by Dan Rooney, Sr., Art Rooney II, Mike Tomlin and the four players on hand.
The most exciting part for the players, though, was when they had the opportunity to sign where the logo is painted on the nose of the plane and the realization that every time that plane takes flight for a mission, their names will be on there.
“That plane going overseas and on so many missions, with that art on the nose of the plane and to have my signature on it and it continue to serve our country, it’s a pretty big honor,” said Legursky, whose father Wayne served in the 82nd Airborne. “Coming from a military family it’s close to my heart. To come out here and hang out with people who serve is the least I can do for everything they do for our country.”