FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. – The line of fans at the Post Exchange formed well in advance of a highly anticipated 4:30 p.m. CST start, snaking its way around the foyer corner and out of view.
A few wore the Army Combat Uniform (ACU), but the majority waiting patiently for autographs wore the colors or jersey of the team visiting the installation – the Kansas City Chiefs.
Ultimately, the eruption of beaming smiles among adults and children announced the arrival of quarterbacks Chase Daniel and Tyler Bray, inside linebacker Derrick Johnson, KC Wolf and two cheerleaders.
“It’s always great when professional athletes come and meet with the soldiers and families,” Master Sgt. Sharonn Doyle of Walla Walla, Wash., said. “It reminds us that they remember us.”
While fan excitement charged the air, being around troops and their families proved a homecoming of sorts for Johnson.
“My dad was in the Navy,” Johnson said. “I have the opportunity to give back to the military or come out and support it in any way possible.
“Coming down to Leavenworth, it’s a great atmosphere, the sense of protecting and support down here when you’re around military people. They do more than enough for us to come down and do a little token coming out to the community to show our love. They’re the real heroes.”
The Pro Bowl linebacker’s appreciation of the military proved a two-way street.
“I think it’s amazing that these guys are willing to take time out of their busy day to come out and support not only the troops, but the families,” Maj. John Villasenor of Springfield, Va., said. “I think that’s the most important thing.”
Villasenor, who had his children with him, admits Wednesday’s visitors aren’t the primary team he roots for. While he professed to be a Cowboys fan, Villasenor said the Chiefs are an easy team to back, which he does willingly.
“I’m living in Kansas, they’re the local team and you get caught up in the spirit of everything, especially last year,” Villasenor said. “I took my kids to Arrowhead Stadium and we supported them completely.”
Meanwhile, the Fort Leavenworth event marked the fifth year in a row the Chiefs have called on local military installations as part of the team’s Salute to Service program.
In recent years, the team has visited Whiteman Air Force Base and Fort Riley, home of the Army’s storied 1st Infantry Division aka The Big Red One.
But Wednesday signaled the first encounter on a military installation for Daniel and Bray, both of whom came away impressed.
“It was a great experience,” Bray said. “I’m just excited to be here. Everybody here just seems excited to serve our country and that’s a great thing.”
Prior to meeting fans at the Post Exchange, the Chiefs visited the Douglas MacArthur Middle School to participate in Play 60 activity stations.
And the overall atmosphere of Wednesday’s visit proved memorable for Daniel.
“The kids were so gracious and so wonderful when we went to do the Play 60 event,” Daniel said. “Everybody is so happy to see us, and for me in my mind I’m thinking we play a game for a living.
“These guys are risking their lives day in and day out to protect and serve this country. I was in awe of all the military personnel on this base.”
Notes: Chase Daniel, a Missouri alumnus, supports the hiring of new Tigers basketball coach Kim Anderson … “I trust in (athletic director) Mike Alden’s decision to hire him,” Daniel said of Anderson. “From everything I’ve seen and read, he is a stand-up guy. He went to Mizzou, this is his dream job, he’s not going anywhere and that’s good. It will bring stability back to the basketball program ” … Daniel and Derrick Johnson agreed the punishment fit the crime when it came to NBA commissioner Adam Silver banning Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life surrounding racist comments … “I thought that Adam Silver got it completely correct,” Daniel said of the ban … “It was wrong and you have to pay for what you did,” Johnson said of the ban. “Wrong is wrong.”