Hayden: My military family, my Steelers family

Michael Hayden, the author of this feature, served as an Air Force four-star general, director of the National Security Agency and director of the CIA. This feature also appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Sunday, December 3.

In my 72 years, I have been part of many different families. First, of course, was my birth family. My parents Harry and Sadie raised me, my sister Debby and my brother Harry right here in southwestern Pennsylvania. Like a lot of folks from that part of the country, we were a blue collar family. Life was pretty straightforward: family, work, church, school, sports.

In 1967, I joined a much larger family — my military family. I was first commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Air Force some 50 years ago, and I served proudly alongside my sisters and brothers in uniform. I quickly learned that the line between my two families was often blurry — after all, it was my birth family that gave me the grounding, confidence and morals to join (and eventually lead) the military family. And my military family broadened my views and my experience. I not only got to meet people from all over the country, I got to serve in in places that will forever affect who I am: Guam, Korea, Germany, communist Bulgaria.

In 2005 I joined yet another family, this time the good folks of the Central Intelligence Agency. I have never been part of a more dedicated, closely knit group of people and — like their military counterparts — CIA officers are willing to sacrifice not only for one another, but also for our country. But they do it in secret, away from public view, unseen even by the people whose safety and security they protect.

There is also one more family I haven't mentioned yet, one that pulls me back to my beloved hometown of Pittsburgh every weekend between September and January. I have considered myself a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers family for as long as I can remember, even before I started as a ball boy for the team in 1961. On Sundays, my dad and I would watch the Steelers battle it out on the grass at Forbes Field, and later at Pitt Stadium.

I remember exactly where I was when the Immaculate Reception happened: on Guam, and — because Armed Forces Radio didn't carry the game live — I first heard of the catch during coverage of the second playoff game that afternoon. I didn't actually see the catch until days later, when the local Guam TV station ran a replay of the game. Unlike today, the video recording had to be flown across the Pacific.

I was still on Guam and listening to games on Armed Forces Radio when we beat the Vikings for Super Bowl win No. 1.

Two weeks ago, I was honored to be part of honoring the long-standing bond between my military family and my Steelers family. At the annual Salute to Service game against the Tennessee Titans, I was invited to join the pregame activities honoring the men and women who serve our country. I met veterans from WW II, Vietnam and today's conflicts. I stood proudly during the dedication of the MIA/POW seat, a reminder of the incredible sacrifice that too many of our armed service members have had to make. And when senior chief officer Ralph Anderson came through the tunnel to be honored by the Steelers as one of our countries great heroes, I was as proud as anyone in the stadium.

It was also a special moment when former Steelers John Banaszak, Craig Wolfley and Rocky Bleier joined with dozens of current players in saluting their own family members who serve or served in the military.

No sports team has been more active and supportive of our military and veterans. I've traveled this country and world as a general and as director of the CIA, and I am always struck by the connection our dedicated service members have with the Steelers — such as the time I watched the Steelers beat the Browns in a playoff game with the Marine Security Detachment in Tirana, Albania.

And whether it's their work with organizations like Operation Troop Assistance, or connecting families with members serving overseas, or providing special housing for veterans returning with disabilities, or regular player vis-its to the VA, our Steelers family continues its special bond with our military.

At this point, you won't be shocked to learn that this ethos all comes back to yet another exemplary family: the Rooneys. As a former Steelers ball boy, I got to watch The Chief firsthand. I eventually became close to his son Dan, who never failed to give me a call and a voice of support when things got tough in my career. And I now have the honor of watching The Chief's grandson Art carry on the family tradition. With the Rooney family, it all comes down to faith, family and football — in that order.

So, as we gather with our own families this time of year to watch our Steelers make another run for the Super Bowl, let's not forget to keep our military servicemembers and veterans in our hearts — as they continue the fight to protect all the families we hold dear right here at home.

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