Visiting Germany was not exactly included in Tim Jennings’ future travel plans while attending Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School.
“I didn’t really know much about (Germany) at all,” said Jennings in a telephone interview. “I’m a country guy from the South, never before this far out. I’ve heard things about it, but never actually thought I would see it because I knew what people were talking about.”
An opportunity to visit the country and provide goodwill and cheer for military troops with the United States Organization of Illinois as part of its Europe Pro Tour 2013 was something the Chicago Bears’ defensive back and former Bruin and University of Georgia standout could not turn down. For four days, he, fellow Bears’ running back Matt Forte and former teammate wide receiver Johnny Knox signed autographs, took pictures and witnessed personnel at two military installations in Germany.
A private, non-profit organization, the USO has for decades lifted the spirits of America’s troops and their families each year at hundreds of places worldwide. In addition to fulfilling its missions of providing a touch of home through centers at airports and military bases, top-quality entertainment and innovative programs and services, the organization has given critical support to forward-deployed and injured troops and their families.
The trip started this past Tuesday with a visit to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, followed the next day by a stop at the U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden. After a stop in nearby Amsterdam on the third day, Jennings concluded the trip with a boat ride along the Rhine River with military personnel.
“I already had much appreciation for them, of course, because of what they do and how long they go on tour and the amount of work they put in and the sacrifices they put in being away from their families and missing a big portion of their families’ lives because they’re deployed somewhere in the world,” Jennings said. “To actually now be a part of it ... and I’ve got a chance to uplift their spirits, that has been the most uplifting part of this experience.”
Getting to visit locations in Germany Jennings read about in high school and seeing firsthand how the troops live overseas was an added bonus.
“Coming over here and now seeing the historic part about (Germany), having a chance to visit historic features,” Jennings said, “seeing Germany, it’s been a great experience. On top of that, seeing the troops that’s over here, their lifestyles where they live, they really do enjoy it.”
For all the success Jennings has earned from making two Super Bowl appearances and earning a ring with the Indianapolis Colts to making the Pro Bowl with Chicago, giving back to others is even more rewarding.
“It’s a good feeling,” he said. “It brings back just the humbleness of what got you here and the opportunity to give back to the kids and let them know that every day may not work as you planned, but it’s a plan and if you just stick with that plan and you’re doing everything the right way, you never know. Good things are going to work out for you and I’d like to think that I’m a living testimony to that. Every opportunity that I have, I want to be able to share that moment. I want to be able to share that knowledge and now that I’m in the position to do so, I definitely want to take advantage of every opportunity to do so.”
Now back in the United States, Jennings is scheduled to rejoin the Bears on Tuesday for OTAs. Not only does he have to get acclimated to a new head coach in Marc Trestman and staff, but also playing without recently retired linebacker Brian Urlacher.
“It’s just the nature of the game,” Jennings said. “He will be missed. He’s a great guy, a great teammate, great man, and great big brother. With the things we’re going through right now, it’s just one of those changes that you’ve got to go through. Just like a coaching change. Now you’ve got to change with Urlacher not being there.”
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