With NFL players locked out, the Buffalo Bills used six military men to model their new uniforms at the June 24th unveiling ceremony. These men were as honored to help the Bills as the team was to honor them and all six have local connections.
Lance Corporal Alex Smith was a 2008 graduate of Maple Grove High School in Bemus Point, NY and is on the far left in the picture above. Bemus Point is about an hour and a half from Orchard Park near Jamestown, NY. During the ceremony, Brian remarked to me how much he looked like Chris Kelsay. Smith is a member of the Marine Corps joining his two brothers and father in that branch.
"It was beyond anything I could even describe," Staff Sergeant Gregory Price told BuffaloBills.com that night. "It was a once in a lifetime thing. I played football in high school, but never at the stadium so I got to feel what i always wanted to be growing up for that 45 minutes or so."
Price, a native of Amherst, is second from the left in the photo and a member of the U.S. National Guard. He's been with the branch since 2000. Since serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom he has become a recruiter for the National Guard at the Connecticut Street recruiting center in Buffalo.
Army Specialist Nick Stone, middle left in the picture, received the largest ovation that night after emcee Steve Tasker read his bio for the fans. Specialist Stone lost his leg to a roadside bomb in May of 2010 but I didn't notice it until Tasker announced it. Stone, a native of Hamburg, is a huge Bills fan as evidenced by the picture of the Bills charging logo Stone's prosthetic leg.
"That’s a really good thing when the crowd is into you like that," said Stone. "Everyone has dreams of playing on that field, everybody that plays football has dreams of making it to the big leagues. It was really special to be there. It was just awesome."
First Sergeant Anthony Kuhn's family still lives in North Tonawanda. After spending time in Iraq, Kuhn now is in charge of a company of drill sergeants.
"At first I thought it was for the color guard because we do a lot of the color guard," said Kuhn, in the middle on the right. "When they called me originally I said, ‘Yeah, no problem. You guys need a color guard? We can help you out.’ And they said, ‘no, we just want you for the jersey unveiling.’"
National Guard Member Sergeant Kevin Reynolds is a graduate of Westfield Academy, a short trip west on the Thruway from Buffalo, and has served as a Marine Corps prison guard for ten years. He spent time in that capacity in Iraw and was responsible for the capture of three of Iraq's most wanted insurgents.
"My job was convoy security and we did over 300 convoys over there, but would do convoy security for a couple of days and then our down time was checkpoint security," said Reynolds, who is now an Army recruiter in Buffalo. "We would check all the vehicles coming into the base and make sure there were no bombs or explosive devices. Every day there is intelligence that’s released and there’s a BOLO list that tells you to be on the lookout."
Reynolds and his partner got a call at their security checkpoint from headquarters telling them there was a vehicle that had to be commandeered that was heading their way.
"I jumped into a Humvee with another soldier and we drove off a couple of hundred yards from our checkpoint and intercepted the vehicle," he said. "I held them at gunpoint and got them out of there and the people came and verified it was them and we turned them over to the Iraqis.
"It was a heck of a day. They had done a lot of attacks on military areas and also on Iraqi police and they had killed quite a few Iraqi police and civilians so they really wanted those guys."
The last member of the military was Marine Staff Sergeant James McClendon, in the far right of the photo. McClendon is also a recruiter in Buffalo and before that served time in Iraq.
Buffalo Bills CEO talked briefly about why they chose these members of the military to display their new look saying, "The (alumni's) top cause is the Wounded Warrior Program and we're tied in with that as well, so I think it was great treat for not only the military but also our great fans."
"It was really classy with the way that they treated us, with a lot of respect. It was great," Sgt. Kuhn said after the night. "They couldn’t have been nicer, they couldn’t have been more appreciative of the military when they did it. It was something that I’ll never forget and something that my kids will never forget."
Happy Fourth of July, Bills fans. To see a picture of the servicemen in the uniforms, head over to BuffaloBills.com.