Soldiers Stationed in Guam Announce Falcons Draft Pick: 'A Chance to Do Something Out of the Norm'
The recent NFL draft might have taken place in Cleveland, but when it was the Atlanta Falcons' chance to pick in the second round, the attention of NFL fans went around the world to Guam.
That's where U.S. military service members helped announce the Falcons' selection of Richie Grant, a versatile safety from the University of Central Florida. From the United Service Organization's center at Anderson Air Force Base, the service members addressed the camera and threw a football to each other to signify whose turn it was to talk. Then they kicked it back to Cleveland, where NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced the pick.
The service members who participated were huge football fans; helping to announce the selection was an honor and a way to feel closer to home.
Gilbert Paulino, an operations specialist with the U.S. Coast Guard, said in an email to PEOPLE, "There are many service members around the world who are NFL fans, so just a chance to do something out of the norm, while also having some fun doing it, can maybe help take away from the normal everyday stress that service members go through."
Paulino isn't a Falcons fan — he roots for the Las Vegas Raiders — but he said the Falcons are "not a team I consider a rival, so that's fine."
The selection was part of the NFL's partnership with the USO, the military support organization which is marking its 80th anniversary this year after beginning in World War II, when six civilian organizations pooled their resources to entertain the troops.
In 2020, the NFL helped support the construction of a a 6,000-square-foot facility on Naval Base Guam, which according to a USO press release "offers the comforts of home" — including high-speed wireless internet, a sports lounge with big screen TVs and a gaming room.
Last year, the USO offered support to sailors on the USS Theodore Roosevelt after a COVID-19 outbreak, delivering care packages and helping deliver meals and hygiene kits.
In an email to PEOPLE, Leigh Graham, the USO Guam Area Director, said, "USO Guam has been honored to support USS Theodore Roosevelt and US Pacific Fleet Sailors over the last year. Sailors needs have changed since the height of the pandemic, but our mission remains the same — to connect them to family, home and country."
In an interview after he was drafted, Grant became visibly emotional, saying that playing in the NFL was a "dream come true."
When asked to describe what the Falcons were getting, he said, "You're going to get a dog. I'm ready to work. I never thought this could happen, but I'm forever grateful to the Atlanta organization for taking that chance on me. You are about to get a playmaker. A leader on and off the field."