Expressing appreciation for his country, his freedoms, and the sacrifices many men and women have made for the United States of America, one former Bill is heading to Afghanistan to visit troops this Fourth of July.
Former Bills linebacker Chris Draft is an active member of a number of charities and a frequent speaker at NFL events, and was asked to go on the NFL-USO Independence Day trip to represent the League.
"Usually I'm in Atlanta at the fireworks downtown and I'm kind of watching them," Draft said on the John Murphy Show. "But when they said I had an opportunity to go visit the troops I was like, 'Oh my goodness, yes, count me in. I want to go. I want to be there.'"
Draft's father was in the Marine Corps, maternal grandfather was in the Army, and brother was in the Navy, so his gratitude for members of the Armed Forces runs deep.
"To have the opportunity to spend the 4th of July with the troops, there aren't too many words for how exciting that is and how honored I am to be able to represent the NFL, represent the Buffalo Bills even, out in Afghanistan," he said.
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Though Draft played just 11 games for the Bills during the 2009 season – part of a 12 year NFL career – he remembers his time in Buffalo fondly. As a speaker at the recent Rookie Symposium in Cleveland, a program attended by all 2013 draftees, he told Bills rookies they'll be overwhelmed by the dedication of Buffalo fans.
"I was talking to EJ Manuel and the rest of the Bills rookies before they left, and I was telling them how great the Bills fans, how amazing they were," Draft said. "In 2009 we played the Indianapolis Colts the last day of the season and it was a blizzard. The snow was crazy. And the rookies were waiting for me to say, 'And there were a few real diehard, dedicated fans that showed up.' I was like, 'No, this place was sold out.' People were excited. They know how to dress. They were ready to go, and it was amazing."
But he didn't attend the Rookie Symposium just to chat with current players about his playing days and memories. Especially in light of recent events, Draft harped on appreciating the opportunity and respecting responsibilities that come with playing professional football.
"This has always been a goal of mine, to empower our young men," he said. "When I look at the game of football, we have so much power to affect people's lives outside of this game. So being able to help guys see not just the pitfalls, but what the opportunities are, is huge."
Draft connects those opportunities granted to him and other NFL players who make a living doing something they love with his trip this week, and plans to tell the military members he meets how valued they are for creating the freedoms we enjoy. "We support you. We've got your back," he said. "We appreciate everything that you're doing. When you're putting your lives on the line, we appreciate you. We understand that you're out there fighting and that every day you have to be on. The ability to get out there and be free, have choices and have thoughts, all the things that we're talking about here, the possibility of change, is because of this great country."