Brees, Bulger among league leaders... in military support

They share a record… and a commitment to the military.

Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints and Marc Bulger of the St. Louis Rams join Pro Football Hall of Famer Dan Marino as the NFL quarterbacks to reach 15,000 passing yards for one team the fastest in history.

Brees did it this season in his 53rd game with the Saints. That broke the previous NFL mark of 56 games held by Bulger and Marino.

But both of these nine-year NFL quarterbacks, who will square off Sunday in St. Louis, share another distinction -- one they are more proud of because it involves the military.

It's only fitting that Sunday's game will feature a "Salute to American Veterans" with military festivities during halftime, because Brees and Bulger are among the "league leaders" when it comes to the NFL's military support.

"We appreciate the sacrifices our men and women in uniform make," says Brees, speaking for himself and Bulger. "You realize how tough it can be for them. We have so much respect for them."

In showing that respect, Brees has set a record for most NFL-USO overseas trips by a single NFL player -- four, in the past three years, no less.

In 2007, Brees' first USO trip took him to Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. He was just getting warmed up.

The next year, it was two trips in the space of a few months when he first hit Okinawa for the USO in the spring, then turned around in early summer and joined NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and New York Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora on a three-country tour to Afghanistan, Iraq and Kuwait. Then this summer, it was on to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to show the guards there that they have not been forgotten.

Brees' trip to Okinawa held special significance. One of his grandfathers, Ray, was a Marine in World War II. His other grandfather, Gene Brees, was in the Army during the war. Grandpop Ray participated in the Okinawa invasion and Drew called him from the beach there.

"I choked up when I talked to him," said Brees, who this season has led the Saints to their best start ever (8-0). "I was just so proud to know that my grandfather landed there and was part of that. You grow up as a kid listening to your grandfathers tell stories about their experiences in the military. I always felt that, if for some reason football didn't work out, I would have seriously considered going into the military."

Bulger, who this year became the Rams' all-time leader in pass completions, has stayed stateside in his USO involvement, but has contributed no less to the effort to support the troops.

Bulger also is the first NFL player ever to renovate an entire USO facility.

It's a great story.

The USO facility at St. Louis' Lambert Airport, through which thousands of military personnel pass each year, had not received major renovations since it opened in 1981.

Enter Bulger, Dave Glover and Rocky Sickmann.

Bulger and Glover, a local St. Louis radio personality, were sitting in Bulger's basement in early 2008, fascinated by some of the stories told by their friend Sickmann.

He was one of the 52 U.S. Embassy hostages held captive in Iran for 444 days in 1979.

For four hours, Sickmann recounted the experience, how he survived and what motivated him day in and day out.

At the end of the night, Bulger and Glover knew they wanted to do something to show the military that they were appreciated for the kind of efforts they take to protect Americans such as those in the hostage crisis.

Bulger's idea? Spruce up the USO at Lambert.

"I told Dave how I fly through Terminal A at Lambert and pass the USO and didn't really know much about it," says Bulger. "But I thought, 'Let's do something. Let's help out.' It's something I thought we should do. You can give money to help families, but this would be tangible for everyone."

And so began work on a project that took less than two months to complete as far as construction but closer to 16 months to organize. This past June, Bulger, Glover, Sickmann and others christened $300,000 renovation of the USO lounge at Lambert with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. The final $100,000 came out of Bulger's pocket.

In its new state, the Lambert USO is now one of the largest and most impressive facilities of its kind in the nation. Included in the renovations are a lounge area with cushy leather chairs and a flat-screen television, a revamped snack bar, a full-fledged nursery for soldiers with children, new lighting, a full-service computer and internet café, and a sleeping area with twin beds.

"This is a home away from home for active military," says Al Kaste, president of the USO Board of Missouri. "Many of our troops are already saying it's the best they've ever been in."

Bulger got an even higher appreciation of the military through the project.

"Once you meet these people, you become really fond of them and the way they appreciate things," he says. "They're selfless and they don't want a thing in return. That's what I really respect about the military."

The feeling from the military, really, is mutual when it comes to Brees and Bulger.

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