It would be pretty tough to top the first-week work experience Chris Bailey had with the Washington Commanders.

A fan of the NFL team since he was young, Bailey was new to his job as Salute Leader for the Commanders and sitting in on his first meeting when in walked someone he had no trouble recognizing.

“They bring me into a team meeting and I realized that Doug Williams is in this meeting with me,” Bailey said. “I watched him win the Super Bowl, as the first Black quarterback to win a Super Bowl, and now he’s on the staff here with the team.

“I was like, ‘Am I here? Is this really happening? I’m in a meeting with Doug Williams.’ I walked out that day, called my dad and said, ‘You’re not going to believe this ...’”

An NFL football team and a 25-year Navy vet were starting rebrands at nearly the same time. The Commanders were in the infant stages of a transition to a new name, and Bailey was seeking a new career path.

Touchdown, Chris Bailey. He was hired in May of last year to serve as the team’s chief community outreach contact for the many veterans living in Washington D.C., Maryland and Virginia, known as the DMV. All NFL teams have veterans programs as part of the league’s Salute to Service. But to his knowledge, none of them have a leader of the program who can boast 25 years of military experience.

“This happened almost simultaneously with the new brand of the Commanders,” Bailey said. “It’s an easy tie to the DMV, kind of the home of our nation’s military, and what that all means and all the responsibilities, privileges and honors that come with command.”

When he left the Navy as a Captain, Bailey was hoping to land a position in a college athletic department or professional sports administration, but wasn’t necessarily looking for that position to have a military tie.

When the Commanders’ position became available, Bailey jumped at the opportunity.

“I get around at our different events and I meet different guys in uniform who are considering making a transition and they say, ‘He’s working for the NFL. How can I do what you’re doing?’” he said.

Bailey and the Commanders host a pregame event for veterans before every home game that draws about 500 service members and guests. He also helps direct the team’s extensive Veterans Day festivities in November, which includes recruiting more than 90 service members to help hold the flag on the field during the pregame ceremony. He also organizes flyovers throughout the season.

During the offseason, Bailey organizes opportunities for veterans to stay connected to the team through the NFL Draft, mini- and training-camp events, and OTAs.

Those events have led to more “pinch-me” moments, including interactions with Commanders head coach Ron Rivera.

“Coach Rivera is a staunch supporter of our military,” Bailey said. “If I’m on the sideline pregame and he’s got his team out there warming up getting ready for a game, he will see a service member in uniform standing there by the tunnel and he goes out of his way to come over and say ‘thank you’ and say ‘hi’ and recognize what these men and women do for us on a day-to-day basis. That I can do this with a team that has a coach like that, makes it easy for a guy like me to do this job.”

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