Skip to main content

A Call to Service: How the Atlanta Falcons are hoping to inspire men, women to join military

Gen. Randy George, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, will be among the distinguished guests at Sunday's "Call to Service" game, presented by AT&T, when the Falcons host Minnesota in Week 9. 

Steve Cannon accomplished so much in his military career despite the fact it wasn't terribly long. He graduated with honors from West Point. He was Airborne Ranger qualified. He served five years as an artillery officer and was a 1st Lt. on a border patrol unit in West Germany when the Berlin Wall came down.

Cannon often says he wouldn't trade his military experience for anything even though he chose not to make it a permanent endeavor. He walked away proud of his accomplishments and better prepared for what came next.

While his career went into business with Mercedes-Benz before eventually becoming vice chairman of Arthur M. Blank Sports and Entertainment, a small part of Cannon has never left the military.

"Even though I have hung up my uniform," Cannon said, "I always continue to serve."

That was clear even before he joined AMBSE, with millions in scholarship funds raised for family members of the fallen. It's unmistakable since he started working with Blank, who, among other things, is the Falcons owner and chairman.

Cannon has pushed hard to use the Falcons platform to honor the military, from USO tour stops to fort visits to supporting TAPS programs to the NFL's annual Salute to Service initiative.

However, Cannon got to the point where he didn't want to simply keep saying, 'Thank you,' over and again. He wanted to do something more substantive. So, he called a West Point classmate at Fort Moore in Georgia to set up a summit with the top military personnel there and Falcons brass to ask two important questions: What do you need? And how can we help?

The answer came quick and without hesitation.

"We were sitting around a table with some folks in their recruitment arm and the general officer there," Falcons president Greg Beadles said, "and, they were just talking about how their biggest challenge is getting new recruits, new enlistees."

Falcons executives mulled over how to help with this issue, and, after some discussion, a light bulb switched on above Rich McKay's head. McKay is the chief executive officer of the Falcons and AMBSE.

Should the Falcons switch the annual Salute to Service initiative to Call to Service, highlighting all the different career opportunities available in the military while encouraging people to enlist? The answer among those at Fort Moore, plus Cannon when he heard about it later, was an unqualified yes.

After getting approvals from the NFL and the U.S. military, the Falcons set about a shift. They won't simply honor members of the military during Sunday's Call to Service game, presented by AT&T, against the Minnesota Vikings at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. They'll detail the benefits of signing up, with a live mass enlistment at halftime, a pre-game flyover and military exercises designed to inspire.

Some of the military's highest-ranking officers will also make an appearance, including Gen. Randy George, Chief of Staff of the Army.

"Obviously, we love the idea," George said, "and greatly appreciate the effort and energy the Falcons are putting into this."

Chief of Staff of the Army Randy George (top, center) speaks with his fellow soldiers. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Alexander Agrinsoni/U.S. Army)

The decision to enlist varies by individual, but George's was certainly unexpected, especially for someone with such a long and distinguished career.

He signed up straight out of high school, simply looking to get help paying for college. He certainly didn't plan on being in the military decades later, but the experience made him never want to leave.

He was asked about that decision recently in his Senate confirmation hearings, of all places, and his response focused on people and purpose.

"I just enjoy the teamwork and the camaraderie and the people that I'm around," George said. "I love the sense of purpose that we have in what we're doing over the missions that we've been on. … I mean, you feel that every day when you're at work."

George's son, Grant, didn't take his father's path. He spent six years in the Army and learned valuable leadership skills that helped prepare him for a career as a civilian.

The same can be said for Cannon. He was inspired to attend West Point by his younger brother, Mark, who enrolled there while Steve was at another college.

Mark told Steve "fantastical stories of adventure," which prompted him to abandon another career path and apply to West Point.

Rappelers from Fort Benning deliver the game ball to AMB Group Steve Cannon and United States Secretary of Defense Dr. Mark Esper at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, GA, on Sunday November 24, 2019. (Photo by Karl Moore/Atlanta Falcons)

Steve Cannon calls it "the best decision I ever made," even though his time in the Army didn't last forever.

Its lessons will, though, and that's a point Cannon and George made time and again. It's one that will be front and center at Mercedes-Benz Stadium this Sunday.

"I would tell people that joining the military will actually accelerate their life," George said. "I think that they're going to get experiences in the military, whether it's for three years or if they decide to stay longer, that is going to help them for a lifetime."

This Call to Service initiative is designed to get that message out using the Falcons' massive platform. The organization hopes that it goes so well other teams might try it out.

"We would love for this emphasis on call the service to be copied across the league, and to not just continue to do the same stuff that we've been doing as a league under the banner of Salute to Service again and again and again," Cannon said. "We're hoping that it's going to be a prototype. We're hoping that it'll spread to other teams and that we can have a meaningful impact on recruitment by using the power of our platform to inspire America's youth to say, 'I'm gonna start part of my career in service to the country.' We think that's a pretty cool proposition."


Related Content