The Carolina Panthers play Monday Night Football on ESPN on November 18th, 2013. They take on the New England Patriots and are using that primetime game as a Salute to Service military appreciation night.
Offensive lineman Jeff Byers is a utility player for the team. But on Sunday November 3rd, 2013 in the game versus Atlanta, he injured his foot, which took him out for the rest of the season. So he won’t get to play in the Salute to Service game, but that that doesn’t take away from his unique commitment to the military.
Byers played at the University of Southern California, but grew up in Colorado. So it’s no surprise that he loves the outdoors. It was an encounter while kayaking on a river that encouraged him to serve the USA in a special way. He met the President of the North Carolina USO, John Falkenbury, near a North Carolina Marines’ base. Byers was intrigued with what the USO did: lift the spirits of the active military. And before he knew it, Falkenbury officially named Byers an USO of North Carolina ambassador. In his role he has visited Fort Bragg, Fort Jackson and Camp Lejeune. Jeff said “I sat there and hung out with a bunch of young kids that just got done with boot camp and basic training. And I was just brightening their spirits.”
Byers says he understand that he has a unique voice a professional athlete and while he has this platform he is going to give back to as many people as he can. And the troops’ reaction to him is all love. Falkenbury said “There’s a bond you find with athletes and the military, particularly with the football players.” Byers’ passion for the troops increases every time he makes a visit to either the USO office at the Charlotte-Douglas Airport or a military base. “The stresses of their job, people like me and you have no idea about what they go through every day, and the struggles that their family undergo,” Byers said. He called another level of commitment. “It really gives you a sense of pride in your country. We have these 18, 19, 20 year olds who are willing to put their life on the line to defend our freedoms, our constitution, our way of life.”
A humbling sacrifice that he says he’s committed to do what he can to personally salute the troops for their service.