Last week, Chargers Legend Donnie Edwards spent time in Japan for the All-NFL Legends USO Tour. Edwards was joined by Tony Richardson and Amani Toomer to spend time visiting service members and their families as part of the NFL's Salute to Service program.
"It was an honor to be a part of the first All-NFL Legends USO Tour," Edwards said. "It means a lot to me since I grew up in a military family. To shake hands with the troops, and to recognize and honor their service personally in their place of work overseas was very impactful."
Throughout the week, the players spent quality time with Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and their families, met with installation commanders and participated in unit visits. Edwards and the other NFL Legends took part in a military working dog demonstration, visited an air defense artillery unit and got a close-up view of aircraft and the maintainers who keep them in the air.
For Edwards, his most memorable moment came by emulating what some of the service members have to wear in the scorching summer temperatures. The moment gave him more meaning for what they endure on a daily basis.
"Putting on the EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) suit in 100-degree weather," he said. "The suit was 70 pounds and the helmet was 20. It was very hot in Okinawa and very, very claustrophobic. The mask came down and you felt like there was no air, but there is a fan that blows air in the helmet. It is amazing to know that the service members train up to two hours in the suit. We were able to learn a little bit about everything that is involved in what they do."
Since his retirement from the NFL, Edwards has spent time supporting and giving back to the U.S. military. He founded the Donnie Edwards Best Defense Foundation in order to help assist veterans and their families. But his connection to the U.S. military is much more personal.
"It was important for me to participate because of the opportunity to pay respects and thank the service members in person. It all started with my grandfather, Maximino Razo, a 100-percent full Apache Indian and Pearl Harbor survivor. As a young kid, he set the foundation for me to understand that freedom and liberty is not free, it is defended."
Overall, Edwards walked away from the experience even more grateful and thankful for those who put their lives on the line each and every day to defend the country's freedoms.
"I understand the sacrifices and the hardships that they make, and to bring a sense of home to the troops when they are abroad, means a lot."