Packers Road Trip: Recognizing those who answer the call of duty

Day 4 of the Packers Road Trip included a special visit with those in uniform at the Wisconsin Army National Guard unit, a boat tour on the La Crosse Queens Cruise and afternoon bingo while cruising through Central Wisconsin.

Packers Road Trip visits Wisconsin National Guard unit

Over the course of 16 Road Trips and Tours, the Packers have visited with scores of women and men in uniform, whether it has been veterans at veterans' homes, active-duty soldiers at Ft. McCoy or recruits at National Guard Units. A consistent theme through these types of visits has been taking the opportunity to recognize and thank the women and men for their commitment to serving our country.

Day 4 of the Road Trip began with such a visit, this one at the Wisconsin National Guard armory in Onalaska, where about 100 members were present to prepare to depart for basic training. Mark Murphy started off with a sincere thanks from the Packers.

"We thank all of you for making this commitment, particularly with the challenges we face throughout the world today." 

The new members of the unit heard from the football players what they felt was important on their paths to success, approaches that may be helpful for them as they begin their own journeys as part of a new team. 

James Starks shared the frustrations that he faced during his rookie year, which included the challenge of overcoming an injury to come off the PUP list.

"I needed to stay focused, stay locked in and work on what I needed to do to be successful when the opportunity came," he recalled.

As Packers fans remember well, Starks succeeded in coming off the list and was a key contributor in the playoff run to victory in Super Bowl XLV. 

Tony Moll said it was important to know your strengths and weaknesses. Scott Wells said mental toughness was a key. 

When asked of favorite moments, Wells recalled his first start. Mike Neal spoke about the special relationships with teammates and Tramon Williams remembered receiving a phone call on Thanksgiving Day from the Packers informing him they were going to sign him to the practice squad.

Moll recalled playing the 49ers on the road, saying, "That was a surreal moment for me, playing the team I grew up following. I realized that I made it to the top." 

The unit's leader, Sgt. Jeff McCoy, appreciated the themes the players touched on. 

"It's really important for the soldiers, as they head to training, to understand that all those details do matter," he said. "To hear the players talking about staying focused on what they're about to do will be a key to being successful."

Before departing, Wells left the recruits with another message of thanks. 

"We appreciate what you all are going to do that allows the rest of us enjoy what we do."

The Packers Road Trip continued through La Crosse, Wis., visiting with the Wisconsin Army National Guard unit, making a pit stop at Festival Foods and meeting with passengers and crew members aboard the La Crosse Queen Cruise.

Feeling the need to perform a little work on the trip, the players and Murphy made a stop at Festival Foods in La Crosse to help bag some groceries and offer some assistance in the bakery.

Neal's experience as a youth at a grocery store paid dividends as he jumped right in at the end of a checkout to show his technique. 

"I spent a lot of time at the store," he said as he double bagged the heavier items. "I bagged, I stocked shelves, a little bit of everything." 

For some down time, the Road Trip members took in the views of the Mississippi River aboard the La Crosse Queen. They mingled with some fans as they learned about the history of the area and river's importance to the development of city. 

The river views continued as the group ate lunch at the Pettibone Boat Club before departing the Gateway City.

The Packers Road Trip concluded tour across the state with a stop at The Waterford at Wisconsin Rapids for afternoon bingo, a visit with camp counselors and staff at the Wisconsin Lions Camp and a final surprise at Kwik Trip before returning to Green Bay.

In the afternoon, senior residents at the Waterford at Wisconsin Rapids received a visit from the group. Bingo was the game of choice at the assisted living facility.

"I loved it because it reminded me of my grandma," said Jason Spitz. "Anytime you go to my grandma's house, she absolutely loves bingo. 

"It was it was nice to just have an impact and create these little moments. You know you're brightening up their day because they may not get visitors often, but stopping by and spending an hour with them is special for us, as I'm sure it was for them."

The Inn at Sentry World was the group's accommodations for the night, and the players crashed another wedding reception that was taking place there. Neal reconnected with the bride, Samantha, the following morning in the resort's coffee shop where she asked him to sign her Associated Bank debit card.

"That was the first time I've been asked to do that," he said.

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