MOAA Member Honors Servicemembers, Veterans Through His NFL Job

MOAA Member Honors Servicemembers, Veterans Through His NFL Job
Capt. Chris Bailey, USN (Ret), served 25 years in uniform. He began working with the Washington Commanders in their military and veteran outreach efforts in 2022. (Photo by Mike Morones/MOAA)

By John Gogick


MOAA member Capt. Chris Bailey, USN (Ret), knew his dream NFL job was the perfect mix of his passions for sports and the military. He didn’t know how rewarding being Salute lead for the Washington Commanders would be.


“It's very satisfying to be able to do what I'm doing,” Bailey said. “My job on Sundays is to make people smile.”  


Bailey, 50, is the team’s community outreach contact for active duty military personnel and veterans in the area around Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia (DMV) as part of its Salute to Service program.


“Our home games are very much my busy season,” Bailey said. “A home game will host a big, tailgate-type party we call the USO club. It's a tent inside the gate of the stadium. We'll host up to 500 servicemembers [and] their dependents, family members, guests, retired, active duty.”


In addition to flyovers, the team and Bailey also have several on-field, in-game recognition moments for either faculty, servicemembers, or veterans, including flag and service ceremonies.


Bailey works with each DMV-area military base to provide opportunities for the junior enlisted servicemembers. “You've got someone who deserves some on-field recognition and a good deal. Give me a couple of names for Sunday,” he tells them.


Bailey enjoys leading servicemembers down on the field right next to the players and coaches.


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“Coach [Ron] Rivera is fantastic,” Bailey said. “He's always willing to come over and shake a hand when he sees the uniform.”


Bailey spent 25 years in uniform. After graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., he flew Seahawk helicopters for many of those years.


“I got it in my mind about midway through high school that I wanted to go to the academy and I wanted to fly in the Navy,” Bailey said, citing the first Top Gun movie’s influence. “I'm probably a child of that movie. ... [I was] lucky enough to get into the academy and go on to flight school after.”


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For his last four years of active duty, Bailey’s collateral duty assignment was as the officer representative for the men’s swimming and diving team at the Naval Academy. As the liaison between military life and the coaching staff and athletes, he developed friendship with the coaches while mentoring the players.


“That kind of got me thinking maybe this is something I want to do,” he said. “How can I fit into the sports world, whether it's in a collegiate athletic department or on the professional side?”


He wanted to stay in the Washington, D.C., area, but no jobs in athletic administration were available at the college or professional levels, so he worked for a year in a different field before seeing the opening with the Commanders.


“This seemed like a perfect matchup ... and now [I’m] reconnected with the military and the metro community,” he said.


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In November 2022, Bailey took 12 players to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. It was the first time the team had visited the hospital since before the pandemic.


The players signed autographs for “a giant line” of staff, patients, and family members, before touring part of the facility, including visit the amputee ward and rehab center.


“And those guys just sat there with the servicemembers, listened, hugged, shook hands,” Bailey said. “It was incredibly rewarding, brought me to tears watching the guys. And they were all incredibly humble and grateful to just be there and be a part of it.”


Bailey is the first veteran to lead Washington’s Salute initiative, which has been around since 2009.


“I think they appreciate that there's a vet now on the staff that has ownership of the program, Bailey said. “And it has a more direct connection to the servicemembers and the DMV.”


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The NFL began its league-wide Salute to Service in 2011, and each team has its own events in November. But Washington’s initiative is year-round, and Bailey wants to increase the community encounters around the DMV each offseason.


“One of my big goals going forward in this program is to get us, like that hospital visit, out into the DMV, whether it's with players, alumni, some form of staff,” Bailey said.


Earlier this year, Bailey organized a visit, including eight players, to the 1st Helicopter Squadron at Joint Base Andrews, Md., that included a tour of the facility and a flight.


“They took us all flying for an hour around the DMV, out over the [Commanders’ Virginia] practice facility in Ashburn, and then back over FedEx [Field] on the way back in the Andrews,” Bailey said. “It was my first flight in seven years, so it was it was super cool for me to get back in the aircraft — all the sights, smell, sounds.”


And sharing these experiences with the players makes these visits special for Bailey. He arranged a similar visit to the Pentagon, where he had once been assigned.


“Listening to the [players] on the way in … they're in awe of this building, the home of our military,” he said. “They were super grateful to be there.”


These community outreach visits reveal the other side of fandom.


“Usually, it's fans thanking our guys for autographs,” Bailey said. “It's the reverse when we get these guys out into our community. They're just so grateful and just giving their time and thankful, thanking the service members for everything they do.”


John Gogick is a contributing editor for Military Officer. Kipp Hanley also contributed to this article.


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