In advance of Thursday night's Salute to Service game against the Panthers, four Bears players recently toured Naval Station Great Lakes.
Upon arrival, the players proceeded to the USS Constitution and were treated as if they were incoming recruits. They learned how to put on SCBA (self-contained breathing apparatus), carry firefighting gear and move a dummy to a triage space. The players also toured a $65 million ship simulator that is utilized to train recruits.
"It's absolutely outstanding, having four Chicago Bears players come here to recruit training command Great Lakes, said Michael Magnetta, USAA military affairs representative and a retired U.S. Navy command master chief. "To show them what your average young American who raises their right hand to join the military goes through is really a unique opportunity for the players. It gives the players a good appreciation for what those young men and women go through to serve their country."
No one appreciated the experience more than Whitehair, who has been named the Bears' Salute to Service nominee for the second straight year. Click here to vote for Whitehair as the NFL's 2023 Salute to Service Award winner.
"It was pretty cool," he said. "To go through a day in their life with recruit training and to see what they do on the ship to train, it was a great experience overall, something I've never done before."
Whitehair comes from a military family. His grandfather, Al Racy, served in the Air Force, and his great-grandfather, Ed Blewit, also spent time in the armed forces.
Whitehair consistently supports members of the military. As part of the Bears' Home Team Hand-Off ticket donation program, he purchases four tickets to home games and donates them to the member of the military who is honored on the field as part of the Boeing Military Salute in the third quarter. The veteran offensive lineman also provides an autographed jersey to the honorees.
In the past, Whitehair has participated in Salute to Service week events, including a luncheon at Halas Hall with veterans from the Midwest Veterans Homeless Shelter.
Like Whitehair, Scales comes from a military background—with about a dozen relatives serving or having served—and enjoyed touring Naval Station Great Lakes.
"It was definitely a unique experience," Scales said. "And it was really cool."
Being treated like an incoming recruit gave the players even more appreciation for the young men and women who join the Navy.
"You can't even describe the physical demands they put their bodies through," Whitehair said. "It's a 10-week course where they're getting yelled at. It was a pretty cool experience for us to come to."
"I saw the looks on their faces as the recruit division commanders were welcoming them on board on the base," Magnetta said. "They all realized in that very moment that it was the same feeling that those young men and women get when they step aboard this base as well, and I think they were honored to go through that process."
The Bears hosted and participated in a variety of events honoring and supporting the military ahead of Nov. 9's Salute to Service game against the Panthers at Soldier Field.