While the Pittsburgh Steelers are mired in storylines, it’s easy to forget about the good stories on the team, and there has been none better than left tackle Alejandro Villanueva. His background has already been well documented, which is pretty hard to avoid when you’re a two-time Pro Bowler, but suffice it to say that he is a military man, a decorated war veteran as an Army Ranger who made it into the NFL only after several failed attempts at multiple positions.
Villanueva recently spoke to the Department of Defense in order to talk about his experiences as a serviceman and how that has shaped his life afterward. One of the first things that he brought up was how it’s often lost today as to just what that means.
“I think most of them do not understand, or cannot understand the concept of what it’s like to serve, what it is the things that you do”, he said. “People don’t realize there are different branches that do different things, and that concept, it wasn’t even new to me when I was in high school before I joined the military”.
— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) January 12, 2019
I’m sure many of you have a military history in your family. I have several great uncles, for example, who fought in WWII. One, the youngest of the brothers, died protecting his ground unit against Nazi tanks in the Battle of the Bulge and received a silver star and purple heart posthumously for his actions. In other words, I’m sure many of you can relate.
One of the most difficult aspects of serving, however, is what comes afterward. Readjusting to civilian life can be the greatest challenge, and, without trying to get political, this is an area in which every regime in power for decades, regardless of party, has failed to properly address.
That’s why I think Villanueva has resonated as much as he has, because he serves as an example for other servicemen for what can be achieved in the life after. And to hear him describe it, it’s not easy to find that balance.
“I think that success beyond a uniform is dictated by your expectations and what is it that you consider success”, he said. “And I think that when you don’t have the uniform you have to realize that things are not going to be as meaningful as they were when you were in the service because nothing is going to match the level of commitment, sacrifice, unity that you have in the military”.
As we well know, his time in the NFL hasn’t been completely separate from his life as a serviceman. While it is best-known because of the anthem controversy of 2017, he more importantly spends a great deal of time trying to give back to his fellow veterans in a number of different ways, many of which are not publicized.
But there is perhaps no better service that he can provide than to simply serve as the great example that he has become. “You have to redefine what is happiness, what is fulfilment, and what is it that you’re trying to get out of life”, he said of life after service. One can only hope that his words will reach those who need to hear them.