A night about true heroes


It's defined in its simplest terms as, "A person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities."

Pittsburgh Steelers players show their support for military veterans at Heinz Field.

It's defined in its humblest, but truest, of terms as a member of the United States Military.

And that is why the Steelers once again hosted "Heroes at Heinz Field," an event held in conjunction with the VA Healthcare VISN 4 to honor the men and women who truly embody what being a hero is all about.

The event aids Post-9/11 veterans who are still adjusting back to civilian life, but it does a whole lot more for them. It makes them realize how admired and respected they are.

"For the veterans it's special because it gives them an opportunity to have fun and relax," said William Smathers, Transition Patient Advocate for the VA Healthcare VISN 4. "For us at the VA it gives us an opportunity to reach veterans who might not want to seek care.

"We have put hundreds of veterans through this program and every year there is the same enthusiasm. They are laughing, they are sincere, and it's so informal. When they leave here it's all they talk about, their time at Heinz Field. It means so much."

The veterans take part in three different football stations, learning the art of kicking, passing and receiving from the players.

Garrett Sasse, who is from Spokane, Washington but lives in Irwin, Pa., managed to connect on a field goal, something that was fun for the United States Marine who did three tours of duty in Iraq.

"This is great," said Sasse. "It's super awesome to know you are appreciated. These guys taking time out of their day to do something fun and special for us, they don't have to but it's really nice." Tackle Alejandro Villanueva, a former Army Ranger who served three tours of duty in Afghanistan, was happy to be taking part in the event, sharing stories with fellow veterans and lifting everyone's spirits. And while many of the veterans looked at Villanueva as a hero in their eyes, he doesn't see it that way.

"I am no one's hero. That is for sure," said Villanueva. "For the military community, any time you can make the transition from being in the military to civilian life, and you can somewhat be successful, that is something to celebrate. It's a tough transition for some. When they can see one of their own being able to make that transition it's special."

Villanueva was joined at the event by teammates Jordan Berry, Anthony Chickillo, Matt Feiler, B.J. Finney, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Steven Johnson, Jake McGee and T.J. Watt.

"I think it is really cool the Steelers think about this segment of our society and giving back," said Villanueva. "For me it's a blessing to be able to come here and give thanks to these veterans."

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