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Soldiers connect with former NFL players through "Real Warriors" program

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Albany/HV: Soldiers connect with former NFL players through "Real Warriors" program
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Many soldiers returning home from deployments are working to heal invisible wounds. Our Amanda Kelley tells us about a program that’s bringing some super-star power to help local military families with their struggles.

FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- Taking hits on the gridiron was a way of life for these two men, but when their careers in the NFL ended, it was the toughest hit yet.

Former NFL player Tony Collins said, "I made a mess of it. And that's one of the reasons why I'm here. I got involved with the drugs. I got involved with the women and everything that goes along with that."

Tony Collins and Blair Thomas both say it took time for them to heal their invisible wounds, but now they’re working to help soldiers returning from deployment to do the same.

"What some of these guys go through, we went through transitioning from playing football and getting back into what we call the real world," said Thomas.

It's a program called "Real Warriors," and it focuses on letting soldiers know it’s okay to ask for help, and what resources are available.

Susan Jordan of the Defense Center of Excellence said, "Military life we know is overwhelming, especially with problems with deployments, coming back, reintegration to their post. So we feel that the association and the notoriety of NFL will bring a sense that it's okay, and we encourage people to seek help."

Although these players and soldiers fought different battles throughout their careers, they believe they can tackle their problems with similar approaches.

Collins said, "Just being positive, you know. You're going to have some problems in your life. Life is not always going to be glory glory and hallelujah. There's going to be some rough times sometimes, and you've got to pull through those things."

And it was a message many soldiers took to heart.

Sgt. Jonathan Patrick said, "I think it's actually a pretty good opportunity. It gets the soldiers to come out, learn something about how to deal with their problems, what resources are out there and just a good time to meet some football players."

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