“The most important message about Veterans Day is respect for the ones that fight for our freedom every day,” Carroll said. “I respect what my parents do and what other people’s parents who are affiliated with the military do. They represent us every day, even though we’re not necessarily always going to war all the time. But they’re on guard protecting us just so we can have the freedom to do the things that we want to do and the things that other countries can’t necessarily do. You’ve got to respect them for that because not everybody can put their life on the line and do the things that these people do.”
Carroll’s mother, Jennifer, was a Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Navy and the Executive Director of the Florida Department of Veteran’s Affairs for seven years. His father, Nolan, was a Master Sergeant in the Air Force.
Starks’ father, Randolph, spent more than 20 years in the U.S. Army and was stationed in Germany before being re-deployed to Fort Belvoir, Virginia. The family moved around a lot during Randy’s childhood so he was more aware of the role the military played in our country and what it was like to live on a base.
“For the most part that’s the only life I knew,” Starks said. “I didn’t know too much civilian life because everything I knew was military as far as traveling and going shopping on a military base. My parents are strict and everything’s neat and organized and on schedule so I picked up on that.”
Those characteristics have been easy to spot in Carroll and Starks in the way they practice and specifically in the way they handle themselves with the media, their teammates and their coaches. Both are soft-spoken and respectful in their tone while at the same time deliberate in their actions.
The similarities between a football team and a military company or platoon have been well documented, all the way down to some of the terms used in practice and meetings. Training camp is supposed to be like boot camp, and a tough, physical game is often referred to as a battle, but Starks and Carroll know where to draw the line.
“At the end of the day everybody’s going home,” Starks said. “In a real war in the military some people aren’t making it home, so that’s a big difference. When we make the comparison we’re not doing it in the aspect that somebody’s going to die today. It has nothing to do with that. It’s more competing and going to battle. This is a time to reflect about the loved ones people have lost and what those people have done to help us have this great country.”
Carroll is outwardly appreciative of all of the important lessons his mother and father taught him relative to their military life. But what stands out the most are a few trips his parents took him on to different war memorials in Jacksonville and Washington, D.C. on Veterans Day.
“For me it was just to see the amount of respect that everybody was giving to those that lost their lives,” Carroll said. “I didn’t really understand it and when I was younger I always thought of it as kind of like a day off from school. I didn’t necessarily not respect it but I was not taking notice of what was really important on that day. My folks taking me to those memorials showed me that this is what’s important. This is what our job is about and this is what we do to represent our country, even if it means putting our lives on the line.”
Former Dolphins linebacker Derrick Rodgers knows all about that aspect of the job having served six years in the Air Force as a phlebotomist with the 313th Medical Group. He was stationed at Kadena Air Force Base in Okinawa for two of those years as part of the chemical warfare team on call at a moment’s notice should an act of bio-terrorism take place in Asia.
During his term of active duty from 1989-94, Rodgers drew hundreds of bags of blood from servicemen and women sent to the first Gulf War in Iraq and was expecting his unit to be the next one sent over. The war ended quickly enough that he managed to avoid deployment, but he never forgot about his time in the military, keeping a pair of weight-lifting gloves from Okinawa in his locker in his playing days and always wearing a camouflage hat as reminders.
“I still have friends from my time in the Air Force and it won’t go away because you develop bonds and meet people like yourself who had the same intentions,” said Rodgers, who starred at Arizona State before being selected by Jimmy Johnson and the Dolphins in the third round of the 1997 NFL Draft. “We were trying to maybe not necessarily save the world or anything like that but once we got there we understood what we were there for.
“As time goes on and you mature you really get a chance to appreciate more of what you were a part of. When you’re young, 18 or 19, you can’t always have that mindset of a 40-year-old person like I am now. But when you reflect on what you did do you can be humble and understand that it was a pretty bold commitment that you made by saying, ‘I’m doing this for everyone else. This isn’t just for me.’ We were doing this for the United States of America.”