Patriots Hall of Famer Vince Wilfork details eye-opening USO tour experience

Former New England Patriots legendary nose tackle Vince Wilfork spent over a decade battling in the trenches of some of the most memorable games in existence.

Super Bowls, AFC title games, AFC East divisional battles and regular season rivalries against the likes of Peyton Manning’s Indianapolis Colts, Ray Lewis’ Baltimore Ravens and Ben Roethlisberger’s Pittsburgh Steelers—Wilfork has competed with the very best the game of football has ever seen.

That alone makes him a hero to seemingly everyone but himself.

Wilfork, a two-time Super Bowl champion, four-time Pro Bowler, five-time All Pro and Patriots Hall of Famer believes the real heroes are the ones fighting a different kind of battle.

Those heroes are away from their families for extended periods of time, missing out on holidays, birthdays and sporting events. Those heroes selflessly put themselves in harm’s way to protect their friends, families and complete strangers thousands of miles away.

Those are the real heroes to Wilfork, who recently spoke with me about his USO tour overseas visiting with United States military personnel.

“It was so amazing, just to be in the presence of the troops, our military and their families—and just to kind of see how things operate on a daily basis. …To be able to watch and understand what all they do to keep us safe, it was just, I’m trying to find the word. I can’t even describe it. I was in awe,” Wilfork told Patriots Wire. “So many people take what we have in America for granted, even down to being able to take your kids to school, go grocery shopping, go enjoy a night out at dinner, go to the movies—to enjoy family time and understand that we’re safe.

“A lot of people don’t understand what goes into making sure America stays safe. So this trip meant the world to me because I’m actually looking at the heroes in their eyes. It’s easy for them to look at me and say, ‘Oh, you played football, you’re my hero.’ No, let’s get one thing understood: You guys are our heroes. You are my heroes. The least I can do is come pay and show you the respect that I think they don’t get a lot of recognition of.”

The USO holiday tour included Wilfork and five other celebrity guests on an eight-day tour visiting service members in the United Kingdom, Poland, Romania and Germany.

It was an opportunity for Wilfork to peek behind the curtains and see the price of freedom firsthand. Seeing the daily duties, training exercises and the incredible amount of coordinated work it takes to run things effectively is an eye-opening experience.

On one hand, Wilfork could compare the amount of discipline he saw on display to the way he lived his life playing football, but then again, there was also a clear difference of a line that should never be blurred.

“I don’t get it twisted. Football is very similar to the military because it’s a discipline and the teamwork and what it takes, but we’re different because in football, I can make a mistake,” Wilfork said. “I can make a mistake, and I can go to the sideline and dust it off and go home at night and say, ‘Okay, next week, I’m going to be better.’

“But when our troops make a mistake, it costs lives. People don’t understand how much of a perfectionist they have to be because one mistake, it could cost a platoon, it could cost a unit, it could cost a person their life. So I always keep those separated because I understand what I did for a living was a game. This game they’re playing is real life. They don’t get a do-over.”

The consequences for mistakes can be deadly, and so many brave men and women take those risks daily in an effort to preserve the freedoms all Americans enjoy.

Wilfork’s main goal is to bring recognition to those individuals and their incredible acts of heroism. It all plays right into him being appointed as the MC of the USO’s annual gala event on April 11, which serves to honor the USO Service Members of the Year.

The former NFL nose tackle admitted he has been moved by the stories he’s heard in individual conversations with troops. But there was one story in particular that really got to him. This story was about a soldier that had been blown up multiple times while on duty.

“I was with one guy, just hanging with him and stuff. He’d been deployed two or three times and he’d been blown up two or three times. He’s still living,” said Wilfork. “Just to hear his story and how much the military means to him. How much he takes care of his brothers and go to war with his brothers at the drop of a dime. It just goes to show you the mental capacity and mental strength of our troops and what it means to be ultimately a teammate that don’t want to let their brother and sister down.

“It’s not about them. …It’s about their brothers and keeping us safe. They don’t think about or feel sorry for themselves. That was one story that really stuck out to me because here I am, I can get being blown up one time, but three times? And you still love it and still do it and won’t even blink an eye. That showed me so much gratitude that they had towards our country and towards us Americans—and what they’re willing to do to protect our country.”

Wilfork will continue honoring the troops when serving as the MC for Thursday’s gala event, which will be attended by Congress members and senior government and military leaders at The Anthem in Washington, D.C.

The excitement he feels to host such a great event trumps any nerves. This is an opportunity to create memories, while simultaneously bringing awareness to some of the many incredible stories that often go unheard.

People spend their lives looking for heroes in movies, sports, video games and television shows. But the truth is the glitz and glamour doesn’t always come with real acts of heroism. Sometimes, those acts aren’t noticed at all.

But it doesn’t stop those special human beings from doing them. That’s why those individuals are the real heroes.

“I’m looking forward to just meeting the people that’ll be there. Just being around these guys and the Service Members of the Year and guys that have made decisions that keep us safe,” said Wilfork. I’m just looking to soak all of that in and hang out and meet new people and share some stories.

“…I’m not nervous. I’m more excited than nervous or anything. …I’m just looking forward to being able to meet everybody and just letting them know how much it means to me and my family, to let them know how much we appreciate them as Americans.”

Story originally appeared on Patriots Wire