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CHICAGO -- Leadership from the U.S. Army Installation Management Command, including LTG Mike Ferriter and CSM Earl Rice, participated in the Chicago Bears' annual tribute to military veterans during their Sunday Night Football game against the Houston Texans on Veterans Day at Soldier Field.
Ferriter participated in a pregame 50-minute discussion of former Bears players, medical personnel and other military members who discussed concussions and traumatic brain injuries.
The TBI panel included Ferriter, COL Andrea Crunkhorn from the Office of the Surgeon General, Bears neuropsychologist Dr. Elizabeth Pieroth, former Bears players Otis Wilson and Gary Fencik, and Bears President and CEO Ted Phillips.
The discussion was part of the U.S. Army's partnership with the NFL to promote positive culture change regarding head injuries in both organizations. The relationship includes information sharing between the Army Medical Research Center and the NFL's key brain injury experts. Through this cooperative effort, both are gaining a better understanding of exactly what happens to the brain when it is impacted.
"It was a chance to change the culture, education, and advance the initiative we have with the NFL," Ferriter said. "What CSM Rice and I emphasized was that unlike a jump in which one is physically injured and has to be evacuated, a concussion falls off the drop zone for not self-reporting the invisible wound. You are placing the 'always place the mission first' at risk as you are not 100 percent."
Some of the latest medical procedures, policies and misperceptions about TBI were discussed.
The similarities of Army and NFL cultures were emphasized and it was noted that NFL players are capable of gaining the attention of Soldiers, and vice versa, with each benefitting from the other.
The panel discussed the importance of top-down leadership, the necessity to educate and inform mid-level leadership, and likely Soldier and player reactions to increased leadership focus. It was agreed that most players and Soldiers will not take themselves out of the game or mission in most circumstances, thus, coaches and leaders must make those decisions for them.
It was agreed that this culture change and reduction in stigma associated with TBI is a long-term initiative that will take time.
Ferriter assured that the Army is "all in" on this initiative and that an open invitation to NFL teams is always on the table to continue movement forward on this and other challenges shared with the league. He welcomed former and current NFL players to come speak at Basic Combat Training, to a Brigade Combat Team, or at any Army installation to share their experiences to help change the culture and further educate folks about TBI.
"It was a very engaging panel, as Mr. Luntz worked the panel members and Soldiers alike," Ferriter said.
Wilson, a linebacker with the 1985 Super Bowl champion Bears, half-jokingly said that he dealt more concussions during his career than he received dings.
The panel discussion was featured on NBC's Sunday Night Football pre-game show and received local news coverage in Chicago. U.S. Army and NFL social media sites also recognized the forum.
"It was a great event, and we appreciated the partnership opportunity to represent the Army on Veterans Day," Ferriter said.
Veterans Day also was recognized on Soldier Field.
The West Point Glee Club's Knight Caps performed the national anthem. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus and GEN Ray Johns, commander of Air Mobility Command, served as the Bears' honorary captains for the coin toss.
At halftime, Illinois Army National Guard SSG. Daniel Douglas received a Purple Heart and U.S. Army Special Forces Command SSG Matthew Bracken received a Bronze Star with Valor medal. Ferriter also conducted a reenlistment ceremony of 30 servicemembers from the Army, Air Force, Marine Corps, Navy and Coast Guard.
During the third quarter, the traditional Bears/Boeing Military Salute went to retired Navy Lt. Robert Fash Sr., a veteran of World War II.
November is the NFL's "Salute to Service" month, during which each team chooses a home game to recognize servicemembers. The next TBI event is scheduled for Nov. 20 in Seattle, followed by Nov. 28 in Kansas City.