Ryan Jensen (Center)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers center, Ryan Jensen, has plenty of family ties to the military. His grandfather, Keith Palmer, served in Vietnam and Korea as a member of the Army's 101st Airborne Division. His uncle, also Keith Palmer, followed his father's footsteps into the Army, as well. Jensen's adopted brother, Alec Hatfield is currently serving in the Marine Corps and has served two tours in both Afghanistan and Iraq. But Jensen's calling to get more involved in military initiatives came when he met three-year-old Cooper. While Jensen was playing for the Baltimore Ravens, the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), that provides care and support to Gold Star Families who are grieving the loss of a member of the armed forces. Cooper never met his father, who was killed in action, but immediately took to Jensen at training camp one day because Jensen's infamous fiery red locks matched those of Cooper's. They've kept in contact ever since, with Cooper, now nine, providing Jensen perspective on life.
It inspired Jensen to continue work with military organizations like the USO. Jensen has visited MacDill Air Force Base with the Buccaneers, as well as participated in Bucs' Armed Forces initiatives like Military Day at training camp and the Schwarzkopf Military Family Awards, which honors military families from each branch. "It's awesome when we as players go to these events and just hang out with them and talk with them," said Jensen. "It makes them feel like they're part of a team again, because like football, the military is just one giant team." At home games, he sponsors a community ticket program named "Jensen's G.I. Joes" for military veterans to come to games at Raymond James Stadium. Jensen has also visited Veteran's Assistance hospitals to lighten the spirits of patients there on his own. He hopes that his example of service will spark his son, Wyatt, to follow the same path of serving others as he grows up. "As leaders not just on a football team, but as men trying to raise other men, I hope to raise him in a way that he wants to serve other people and provide some hope to guys who are needing it or women that are needing it," Jensen said. "I hope it sparks a passion for him to find something that he wants to make better."