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Ravens Welcome Military


The Ravens have been doing battle against each other ever since training camp started one week ago, but they recently welcomed a group that was fighting for their lives - and our freedom.

Thursday was Military Appreciation Day at McDaniel College in Westminster, Md., where the team welcomed over 50 servicemen and women to a special viewing of practice, followed by a meet-and-greet with the players and coaches.

And considering that many of them were fresh from fighting in Iraq, the Ravens were humbled to hear stories of how much the military members looked up to them, men that are merely playing a game.

"I wish I had a heart as big as yours," linebacker Ray Lewis told them, speaking on behalf of the team in the final huddle. "You're the ones doing the real fighting out there, and we thank you."

A large contingent of those in attendance were from the 58th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, otherwise known as Task Force Raven.

That name is not just a coincidence, however. The 58th was the command and control force for 1,200 Maryland National Guard soldiers serving in Baghdad.

"That was our inspiration over there, even if it got tough at some points last year," said Col. Sean Casey, the former commander of the IBCT. "It's what kept us going."

Casey, whose son, Kyle, was anxious to get rookie quarterback Joe Flacco's autograph, remembered a Ravens flag he received from his best friend, who displayed it while serving in Kosovo.

"When he came home in November 2007, he sent it over to me in Iraq," Casey said. "It has the dates of both places the banner has been in combat. We were pretty proud of that one."

Casey actually held an unofficial meeting with many Ravens on the last Veteran's Day holiday, when he addressed M&T Bank Stadium before Baltimore's Nov. 11 matchup with the Cincinnati Bengals. The live feed broadcast on the SmartVision boards after a C-130J Hercules performed a flyover of the stadium.

For head coach John Harbaugh, seeing the enthusiasm in the servicemen and women made a powerful statement to a team scratching and clawing in the hot summer sun to earn a coveted roster spot.

"That group had been to Iraq recently and got back safe and sound, and were in great spirits," Harbaugh said. "It was great for our players. They're out here in this 89-, 90-degree heat. And these guys and gals have been over in Iraq in 120-degree heat. It was a good message for our team."

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