Called to duty: Daryn Colledge

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GREEN BAY – He’s gone from a five-man unit on the football field to a four-man crew in a war zone, and Daryn Colledge’s dedication to both realms depicts the full story of this player, husband, father, brother and soldier.

The former Packers offensive lineman and member of the Super Bowl XLV championship team could have decided on a quiet, comfortable existence after nine years in the NFL. Instead he’s chosen anything but.

Colledge, who played five seasons in Green Bay (2006-10) before three in Arizona (’11-13) and a final one in Miami (’14), completed earlier this year a 10-month deployment to Afghanistan as a UH-60 helicopter crew chief in a medevac unit.

While he put his body on the line weekly in the NFL, the stakes are obviously higher in military operations overseas, but Colledge couldn’t imagine anything more personally fulfilling as a post-football career.

“When I retired, I was looking for that next thing to do,” Colledge said in an interview with packers.com last month, when he returned as a featured alum to attend the Packers’ Monday night game vs. Detroit.

“I realized what I missed most in the NFL was not so much the paychecks – which, don’t get me wrong, you miss – but you miss the brotherhood, you miss the camaraderie, you miss the group of people pushing for one end goal, and you miss the sacrifice. I was able to find that in the military.”

It’s something he’d been drawn to his whole life. He grew up in North Pole, Alaska, amidst a hotbed of military bases and saw multiple family generations involved in the armed services, including his brother.

A football scholarship to Boise State and a second-round draft selection by the Packers in 2006 provided both a lucrative first career and an extended detour before his second, which began when he enlisted in the Idaho National Guard a few years ago.

Daryn Colledge (far right)

He had re-established a personal connection to the military while playing football, going on a Navy Entertainment trip in the 2011 offseason with other players and Packers staffers. He enjoyed showing Green Bay’s recently won Lombardi Trophy to the soldiers, but the starting left guard on the Super Bowl championship team appreciated even more talking with them about their jobs, their units, and their sacrifices.

He continued to take USO tours when he could, balancing those with other off-the-field interests. While with the Packers, Colledge had begun a project with his two best friends on the team – fellow offensive linemen and ’06 draft class members Jason Spitz and Tony Moll – making their own brand of wine under the label “Three Fat Guys.”

The hobby morphed into both a business and charitable endeavor for which Moll continues to run the day-to-day operations in Sonoma, Calif. But even before he was done playing football, Colledge knew he’d need more than that in his life.

Spitz recalled getting together for dinner with him, along with Spitz’s brother and agent, while Colledge was playing for Arizona on his rather sizeable second NFL contract. His friend suddenly dropped a big hint.

“His brother was graduating from special-forces training, and he just made some off comment that he’s wasting his life,” said Spitz, who also came back to Green Bay last month for the Detroit game. “That his brother is really giving back to the country, and he could be doing something better like serving.

“We all knew what (kind of money) he was making at the time, so it was like, ‘You’re out of your mind.’ But when it came time to sign up, it was not shocking.”

Daryn Colledge (far left)

Not even to his wife, Megan, whom Colledge calls “a military brat” raised in an Air Force family. They live with their two daughters in Boise, and Colledge decided to enlist there to serve the local community that supported his college career and the scholarship that funded his education.

When he first joined the Idaho National Guard, many fellow soldiers knew of his college and pro football career and enjoyed hearing the stories. But Colledge, who’s now roughly 50 pounds lighter than his playing weight of 300-plus, said they quickly moved past that and his relationships with them are much more like they were with his football teammates.

“I’m not an Aaron Rodgers, I’m not such a huge name that it’s something that’s overwhelming,” he said. “Most of them now get a big kick out of it when somebody else happens to recognize me, because they don’t know me as Daryn Colledge the football player, they know me as Specialist Colledge the helicopter crew chief.”

His duties overseas were numerous – mechanic, door gunner, medic assistant, hoist operator, and more – as well as perilous.

Deployed to Afghanistan in April 2018, Colledge said roughly 75 percent of the time he was training, waiting and watching cameras. But when that call came, his four-person medevac unit – two pilots and another crew chief or medic, depending on the situation – shifted into action at a moment’s notice.

“It would be weeks of absolutely nothing … and then it could be three days of absolute chaos,” Colledge said. “It may be multiple IED strikes, or they may be getting shelled by 120mm rockets. You don’t know, and you don’t know what you’re walking into.

“One day your mission may be a guy fell off a ladder at the base and we need to get him to a hospital, and the next one might be a mass casualty where you’re trying to pull 4-5 bodies into one helicopter. It’s what it is.”

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He’s proud of helping to bring several soldiers home safely, and he’s grateful to have such a supportive family backing his call to duty. His daughters were ages 5 and 7 when he went overseas.

“That’s the toughest thing in the world. They change so much and so much happens while you’re gone,” he said. “My wife’s amazing. She knew what we signed up for and was 100 percent behind it. Without her I couldn’t do it.”

Back at home base again, Colledge is working one weekend a month, coming in a day or two per week for flight training, and getting close to attaining the rank of sergeant.

His recent visit to Green Bay was his third time back at Lambeau Field since he retired from the NFL – once per year except for his commitments to basic training and deployment. The weekend leading up to the Lions game he was the keynote speaker at a Heroes of Wisconsin USO fundraising gala in Milwaukee.

One message he gets across without explicitly saying so is that while football initially might have made him a famous soldier, it also potentially made him a much better one in the long run. What is clear is the latter is of far greater importance to him.

It’s impossible for Colledge not to draw the parallels between his current and previous occupations. He spent five seasons with the Packers counting on left tackle Chad Clifton and center Scott Wells on either side of him to do their jobs well so he could excel at his, and he looks at the pilots, medics and other crew chiefs he works with much the same.

“In football, you’ve trained to work up to something, and all of a sudden when there’s 60,000 people out there, you shut that out and you do your job, and you react to things that go wrong and handle the atmosphere,” he said. “In the Army, it’s the same way – how hard you train to work as a unit when the bullets start to fly or the missions get tough.

“Obviously, the consequences can be different. But we train the same way, with high intensity and (striving for) perfection at all times.”

Daryn Colledge, Tony Moll and Jason Spitz pose after the 2008 regular-season finale, a 31-21 Packers victory over the Detroit Lions at Lambeau Field
Daryn Colledge, Tony Moll and Jason Spitz pose after the 2008 regular-season finale, a 31-21 Packers victory over the Detroit Lions at Lambeau Field

He views the connections and relationships similarly as well. He, Spitz and Moll are bonded forever as offensive linemen who joined the Packers simultaneously from different corners of the country. They battled together to help Green Bay become a playoff and championship team again. The soldiers he’s worked with side by side in Idaho and Afghanistan are “that on a whole ’nother level,” he said.

The sacrifices are just as real, a relatively small one being the need to postpone a long-awaited “Three Fat Guys” getaway when he was deployed.

“It makes sense. It fits his personality,” said Spitz, who now works at an investment bank in Louisville, where he went to college. “He’s made several references that it’s like being in a locker room again. The job is just more dangerous.”

As the Packers approach the 10-year anniversary of their Super Bowl XLV title, Colledge has created one of the more unique legacies from that championship team.

That’s not why he chose to serve or how he expects to be remembered by the fans. As a typically anonymous lineman who never missed a game over five years in Green Bay, playing in all 87 (including postseason, with 83 starts), it’s all much simpler than that to him.

“Oh my gosh, if they just remember me, how about that?” he said. “I never expected to last 15 minutes in the NFL. A kid from North Pole, Alaska, I came here and I just tried to work my (tail) off every day.

“I knew there were a ton of guys that were bigger, faster and stronger, but what I always brought here was a work ethic. I always wanted to just be a good teammate. I just showed up for work every day.”

He’s still doing that, only in a different uniform. His Packers one was a dream come true, and his current one seems to fit him even better.

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