TheClevelandSound Posted March 23, 2010 Report Share Posted March 23, 2010 http://www.cleveland.com/browns/index.ssf/...stan_gives.html s, Schedule, Pictures, Roster & More Browns, Sports Impact » USO tour to Afghanistan gives Browns' Joe Thomas a chance to meet 'a real hero,' gain some new fans By Mary Schmitt Boyer, The Plain Dealer March 22, 2010, 10:00PM thomasarmy.jpgView full sizeUSO photo by Dave GatleySgt. Eric Harder only had a few minutes to talk to Browns tackle Joe Thomas (left) before taking this photo with Thomas and Dallas tight end Jason Witten. But the impact of the meeting has lingered for Thomas. “The big thing that struck me after what he’s done over there and what he did for his troops and the guys around him was how humble he was about everything,” Thomas said of Harder, who has been nominated for a Silver Star for extraordinary heroism while serving in the Army in Afghanistan. “He acted like it wasn’t a big deal at all."CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Joe Thomas went to Afghanistan hoping to touch the lives of the soldiers fighting there, but it was he who came away touched by the courage and humility of a real hero. Traveling with three other Pro Bowl players on the NFL-USO Tour the first week of March, the Browns' left tackle was introduced to Sgt. Eric Harder of Crystal, Minn. According to Thomas, Harder has received a Purple Heart and is up for the Silver Star for extraordinary heroism and valor in the face of the enemy for his role in a major battle at COP Keating on Oct.3, in which eight U.S. soldiers were killed. "I didn't even spend that much time with him, maybe 15 minutes, but he had a profound effect on me," Thomas said recently in a phone call from Hawaii, where he was attending NFL Players Association meetings. When Thomas got home from the USO tour, he went online to research Harder and the battle. Eventually, he found an e-mail address for Harder's mother, Mary Henry, and wrote to her. Henry was moved to tears by the e-mail and wrote a letter to The Plain Dealer complimenting Thomas and declaring herself the newest Browns fan. "The most irritating thing about this war, in my opinion, is that day-to-day people aren't moved by it," Henry said in a telephone interview earlier this month. "When I turn on the news, the lead story is about David Letterman or something. "So to get something like this from someone like him, who went over there to a combat zone and felt what he's feeling, then came home and looked up more information and took the time to e-mail, is just mind-boggling." On his trip, Thomas was told some of the details of Harder's heroism but was asked by Army officials not to talk about it or write about them in his blog on clevelandbrowns.com. Henry's mother doesn't know them, either. Several calls and e-mails sent by The Plain Dealer to the Army's public affairs office were not returned. The specifics are not important, but the impact they made on Thomas was enormous. "The big thing that struck me after what he's done over there and what he did for his troops and the guys around him was how humble he was about everything," Thomas said of Harder. "He acted like it wasn't a big deal at all. After showing extraordinary heroism and courage, he acted like it was no big deal. That was extremely cool. "I think about the things he's sacrificed and the things he's done for our country. Obviously, you can't begin to compare our situations. But I did think about if I was in his situation, would I have been able to do the things he's done, and I don't think I could have done what he has done. And then to see how humble and matter of fact he is about everything ..." Ironically, when Thomas found out The Plain Dealer was doing a story about Henry and her letter, he wanted her to know he had not written to her expecting any publicity. "I knew that," she said. "He talked about my son being humble, but I think he's got the humble gene, too." Thomas, 25, is a few years younger than Harder, who will turn 30 at the end of the month. As one of the Browns' best players, he is used to being featured in the paper and on television and praised for his performances. He thinks a change of perspective is in order. "NFL guys are on the front page, and you hear about their 'sacrifices,'" Thomas said. "In actuality, it's the guys overseas, guys like Eric, guys nobody hears about, who are the real heroes. They're the ones who put their lives on the line for us. Those are the guys who really sacrifice, and those are the guys you never hear about. "Guys like him are the real heroes." Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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