By Teresa Varley
Jeremiah Workman made a diving catch in the end zone at Heinz Field, got to his feet, looked around at those clapping for him and with a smile said, "I wanted to do that all my life."
Workman isn't an NFL player. He isn't a star athlete out there playing in front of a packed house. But he is one of the true heroes in America. He is a United States Marine.
"This has been awesome," said Workman, from Richwood, Ohio. "I am a diehard Steelers fan. To come out here on this sacred ground and have a little fun it's been pretty cool. This is awesome that the Steelers have done this. I would like to thank the Steelers for doing this for us. It means a lot to us. I know that."
Workman was among the 75 service members, each accompanied by a family member, who attended Heroes at Heinz Field, an event hosted by the Steelers and VA Healthcare to honor wounded veterans from Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The event included three on-field drills, receiving, kicking and passing, conducted by Steelers players who signed autographs and posed for pictures as well, before all gathered for dinner.
But it was much more for many of them. It was part of the recovery process for many, some who were in Iraq just a few weeks earlier, others who have been back for a few years but are still fighting back from their injuries.
"It's very important that as soon as the veterans are coming back we're helping them to get back out into the community and feel a part of it so they are not isolated and we can get them to focus on positive things," said Michael Moreland, Network Director for VA Healthcare VISN4. "These kinds of events are extremely important."
John Cislo, a member of the Army National Guard, returned from Iraq on September 13, heading straight to Fort Dix before getting to go back home to Johnstown, Pa. He was among a handful who recently returned and was happy for the opportunity to get out and do something fun.
"It's awesome to be here," said Cislo. "We all love the Steelers. The opportunity to come down to the field and meet some of the guys is awesome. I am glad they gave up their time to come down and do it. I am enjoying it."
It was a family affair for the Deal's from Freeport, Pa., dad Michael, Sr. and his sons Mike, Jr. and Jonathan, all members of the Army National Guard who also have only been back for less than two weeks.
"This is awesome," said Deal, Sr., who served in the same unit with son Jonathan, who turned 21 while in Iraq. "It's awesome to come down here and see the players and enjoy the atmosphere and see all of the development that has come down. It's all new to me. We were deployed from January to September with four months of training before that. When we were deployed we were able to watch the Steelers beat the Cardinals in the Super Bowl together."
It wasn't just the veterans that got a lot out of the event. The players who were on hand also were moved by the courage and sacrifice that each of the veterans embody.
"This isn't work for us. This is a piece of cake," said punter Dan Sepulveda. "To come out here and put smiles on peoples faces it's nothing compared to what they did for us. If we can come out here and take a little bit of time out of our day and cheer them up and thank them for the service they have done for us, we are more than happy to do that.
"Just the fact that they have a servant's heart to go and be faithful to the calling on their lives to go do that and to serve the country that have given them so much and given us so much, we can't thank them enough."
Sepulveda helped coach the veterans in the art of field goal kicking, something he joked that he wasn't very good at himself.
"I am not a kicker that is for sure," said Sepulveda. "We are making do. We are having fun. That is what it's all about. It's not about making field goals. It's about coming out here and taking time out of our day to thank them for the sacrifice they are making for us and our country."
Linebacker Lawrence Timmons is used to hitting quarterbacks, but he had the chance to play quarterback, tossing passes to the veterans and sharing a lot of laughter with them.
"These guys are veterans that take care of us and make sure we are safe at home," said Timmons. "I am happy to have the opportunity to do something like this. It's amazing the courage these guys have. It's something that is impressive to me."
Sepulveda and Timmons were among a group of players that attended, along with Patrick Bailey, Charlie Batch, Keyaron Fox, Doug Legursky, Ryan Mundy, A.Q. Shipley, Kraig Urbik and Greg Warren, and all of them interacted with the veterans for a memorable experience.
"I had a good time today, said Keith Wolverton, a member of the Army National Guard from West Virginia who reenlisted after the events of September, 11, 2001. "It was nice being at Heinz Field and meeting some of the guys. It's an honor to be here. I am proud of the Steelers for recognizing the solders. They are blue collar and so are we."
And he wasn't along in his enjoyment. You could tell from the smiles, the high fives and the relaxed atmosphere from a group that is so used to tension that the event was the perfect getaway from the every day realities these veterans deal with.
"I caught a touchdown pass and I even threw the ball in the hole out there," said Matt Martin of Lower Burrell, Pa., a member of the United States Army. "I never would have imagined something like that.
"This was great. It just shows the appreciation the people have back here while we are over there fighting for our country. The gratitude they have for us to invite us to visit the Steelers at Heinz Field is great."