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Raiders punter AJ Cole has a special connection with military members: ‘There is a common ground we share with the same goals’

Cole, Cory Littleton, Darren Waller and other Raiders’ staff visited the Nellis Air Force Base last month for a special “Salute to Service” event

NFL: SEP 27 Raiders at Patriots Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Las Vegas Raiders have ingrained themselves into becoming a part of the Southern Nevada community since their move there in early 2020.

Several Raiders’ players have foundations based in the glitzy city that has a quietly underserved population in need of community assistance.

Last month, the team continued its long relationship with the military when several members of the organization visited the Nellis Air Force Base in North Las Vegas as part of a special Salute to Service event, in partnership with USAA. Las Vegas punter A.J. Cole, linebacker Cory Littleton; tight end Darren Waller; members of the Silver and Black’s famous Raiderettes’ cheerleading squad; and some team officials spent an off-day meeting with base officials and enlisted Air Force members.

Cole did a phone interview with Silver and Black Pride to talk about the visit, which he made clear was a special experience for him and his teammates.

“It was awesome.” Cole said of his day at the Nellis Air Force Base. “It was so cool getting to see the jets, all the service members doing their jobs, driving around the base and then doing a meet-and-greet and autograph session with all the service members was such a cool experience for all of us.”

The strong-legged Cole has been to other NFL military events since becoming the Raiders’ punter in 2019. Yet, the trip to Nellis was his first experience at an Air Force base — and one that the 26 year old jumped at the opportunity to participate in. “Just watching what they do is impressive,” Cole told us. “I’d love to go back soon.”

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Los Angeles Rams Joint Practice
AJ Cole/USA Today
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Giving his time to support the military is extra meaningful to Cole because he has family members and friends who are currently serving. That personal connection — plus spending time with Waller and Littleton at the base — will always be a cherished and inspiring experience for Cole.

“To be there with my teammates and getting to know everyone was special and I won’t forget it,” Cole said. “This is a platform I want to continue to be involved over the years of my career, and after, and give back to the service members.”

Cole felt a connection to the military members because, like football players, their jobs are based on training.

“What we do is, of course, very different, but the training part of it is very similar. Most of our jobs and duties constant of training with small windows of performance. But we all have to be ready to do our jobs when called with precision. There is a common ground we share with the same goals, it was great to talk to like-minded people.”

Unlike most community events, the military members the Raiders met with at Nellis aren’t necessarily in need of assistance. Yet, they are worthy of the players’ time as a token of appreciation of what the military members do for the United States, and the sacrifices and risk they take on a daily basis

This is second time in the two years since the team moved to Las Vegas that the franchise has sent a contingent of players and staff out to Nellis Air Force Base through the Raiders Foundation, the charitable outreach program of the team. A goal of the foundation is to shine light on community and civic health through military support and youth development. In an other recent event to fulfill that mission, the foundation partnered with Cox to arrange a visit to the Southern Nevada State Veterans Home in Boulder Court for the “Cox Salute to Service Tailgate.” Raiders’ alumni Jerry Robinson (linebacker), Vance Mueller (running back), and Raiderettes distributed Raiders-themed gifts bags to express thanks for veterans’ service to the country as part of the NFL’s commitment to our service members during November.

The Salute to Service program is a year-round NFL-wide initiative that the league calls “a collective effort to honor, empower and connect with our nation’s service members, veterans and their families.”

NFL: NOV 22 Raiders at Lions
Salute to service
Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

During the Raiders’ Nov. 21 game against the Cincinnati Bengals, the Raiders Foundation marked their Salute to Service commitment by hosting leaders from both Nellis Air Force Base and Creech Air Force Base (in Indian Springs, Nevada) in an attempt to bring together the franchise and the local military communities. Allegiant Stadium was beautifully decorated that day with stencils, banners and goal-post wrap to salute the military; game balls were adorned with the Salute to Service logo; and players wore military-colored equipment and apparel.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Las Vegas Raiders
Rich Bisaccia on Salute to Service day
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

To help complete the Raiders Foundation’s support of the military this season, the team sponsored the City of Henderson’s Military Appreciation Banners. Three dozen banners have been displayed along main roads in the town where the Raiders’ team facility and training camp are located. Each banner honors a local resident who is currently serving in the military. Also, on Nov. 11 (Veterans Day), the Raiders Foundation hosted the McGraw family for a reception at Allegiant Stadium in celebration and memory of their family member, Mike McGraw, a veteran and a life-long Raiders’ fan. For his 50th birthday, Mike’s family bought him a legacy brick at Allegiant Stadium, not knowing that he would pass away within the year. Mike’s wife, family and friends gathered there on Veterans Day for a private tour of Allegiant in his honor, and received a special Raiders McGraw jersey.

Here are two other Raiders-community based profiles we previously featured this season: