After the worst earthquake in 200 years hit Haiti in January, Air Force Master Sgt. Brian McMahan — a passionate, lifelong Falcons fan — used the opportunity to not only help change and improve lives for those affected by the disaster, he also shared his love for the Atlanta Falcons. With a box of Falcons Flock towels, McMahan created a brand new Falcons fan base in Haiti
During their remarkable run this season, the Atlanta Falcons have discovered many fans all around the world.
Thanks to one loyal season-ticket holder and serviceman, they have a growing fanbase in Saint-Marc, Haiti, a west coast port town about 50 miles northwest of Port-au-Prince.
This past June, Air Force Master Sgt. Brian McMahan used the opportunity of a lifetime to not only help change and improve lives, but share his passion for the Atlanta Falcons.
The worst earthquake in 200 years hit Haiti in January, its epicenter just 10 miles from Port-au-Prince. The 7.0 magnitude quake ravaged the country and made living there a dangerous and challenging ordeal.
McMahan and his team of medics from Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter, S.C., were selected to provide the first humanitarian mission on behalf of the U.S. government in the country. McMahan's rank meant he was responsible for planning and organizing the mission, coordinating everything from cargo to budgets to flight plans.
A season-ticket holder since 2004, McMahan received a box of Falcons Flock towels from Brian Chacos, his Falcons season-ticket account executive, to take with him. Once on the ground in Saint-Marc, he saw it as an opportunity to reach out to local children. He used the towels as an ice-breaker, giving them to a child or two he came across each day.
For people who had very little, the gesture was astounding. Although McMahan and the children did not speak the same language, the Falcons Flock towel spoke volumes. They'd use the towels in various ways, including wrapping it around them like a cloak.
"They were so gracious to have the free medical care and to get this towel, the reactions were just unbelievable," McMahan said.
They were happy to have something, and McMahan was happy that that something had the Falcons' logo on it. Through the help of translators, as he handed out his towels, the children were reminded they were then Falcons fans and had a duty to root for the team. They often smiled and nodded in agreement.
"They weren't familiar with the Falcons when I got there, but they definitely were when I finished with them," he said.
During the 10 days, McMahan and his team of 21 medics saw around 700 patients a day and 5,600 in total. They provided medical assistance when and where they could and handed out more than 11,000 prescriptions.
The mission, however, almost didn't occur. Five minutes separated it from being over before it began. But much like the Falcons have done this season, McMahan did his best work in crunch time.
Difficulties at the Saint-Marc airport almost prevented McMahan and his team from getting the cargo they needed in time. A small of window of time was set aside for pick-up and they almost missed it. Without the cargo for the mission, there would have been no mission.
McMahan calmly explained to the necessary persons what needed to happen and they got what they needed with five minutes to spare.
"Our team overcame some great obstacles, but we managed to pull it out," he said, a statement that could just as easily fit any number of Falcons games this season.
McMahan's passion for his service and the Falcons is evident by the success of the mission. Upon returning home on behalf of his team and their service he was named the winner of the Global Health Person of the Year for Air Combat Command, an award recognizing contributions to humanitarian efforts and work with foreign governments.
Air Combat Command is made up of 12 air force bases and is the primary provider of air combat forces to America's warfighting commanders.
"To be down there wearing the uniform and to give back to a country that has been through so much was an amazing feeling," he said. "You left there feeling happy for them, but also with an appreciation for what we have back home."
McMahan was scheduled to deploy to Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia on Dec. 26, one day before the Falcons Monday night game against the New Orleans Saints. A few days before Christmas, he got an early gift from the U.S. government. His deployment was delayed two days, allowing him to watch the game.
Although he'll miss the remainder of the season and the Falcons' hopeful playoff run, his passion for his service makes missing some football games worth it.
"It's bittersweet. I'm glad I can serve my nation and take care of the troops, but it's going to be really tough," he said. "Teams don't have years like this that often."
But McMahan will have his own personal towel with him in Central Asia, and should the Falcons land in the Super Bowl, he'll be there watching the game, waving his towel and representing his country and the Falcons proudly.