NEW ORLEANS -- With his teammates Matt Forte and Tim Jennings in the stands, Bears cornerback Charles Tillman received a special honor Saturday during the NFL Honors in New Orleans.
Tillman was named the 2012 Salute to Service Award winner for his efforts to honor and support the members of the U.S. military.
During the Bears' bye week, Tillman visited Fort Hood in Texas, making donations to critically ill children and their families through "Charles' Locker" program (part of his foundation). At the 2013 Pro Bowl, Tillman and other players visited Schofield Army Barracks to meet soldiers, who recently returned from an extended deployment in Afghanistan.
But his contributions go beyond that and go back years.
After personally contacting the U.S. Army in 2010, Tillman participated in an eight-day USO tour in Iraq and Kuwait. He visited Camp Victory, Camp Buehring and Joint Base Balad, signing photos and sports memorabilia and sharing dinner with troops.
Tillman comes from a military family. His father, retired Army Sgt. Donald Tillman Jr., served 20 years.
"The military had a major impact on my life," Tillman said. "My father did 20 [years of service]; my father in law did 30. The military has been awesome to my family forever. I'm thankful for this award and all our soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen. I'm grateful for what they do for this country."
Tillman said it was great to be able to spend so much time with military members.
"Believe it or not, growing up on a military base, when I went to Iraq and Kuwait, I ran into a lot of my old high school teammates," Tillman said. "From basketball to football to running track, I ran into a lot of my teammates. It was weird. I knew a lot of people when I was in Iraq.
"[New York Giants lineman] Shaun O'Hara, he also went with me," Tillman said. "He thought, 'You know him?' I was like, 'Yeah man, I know him. We played basketball together. I've known him since the eighth grade.' I had a blast. I had a great time."
The USAA, the NFL's military appreciation sponsor, will contribute $25,000 in Tillman's honor to benefit all five branches of the military.
"It feels great that I can put that money to good in a lot of ways," Tillman said. "I'm very honored and I'm humbled by them for that generous donation."