And to Coach Quinn!
The Salute to Service Award presented by USAA was created to acknowledge the exceptional efforts by members of the NFL community to honor and support U.S. service members, veterans and their families.
Alejandro Villanueva was born to Spanish parents, his father being a Lieutenant Commander in the Spanish Navy. He grew up in the United States, Spain and Belgium, where he played football at SHAPE American High School.
After playing four years of football at West Point, Alejandro was commissioned in 2010. He was deployed three times before being promoted to Captain in 2014. Among the many honors he received for his service are the Bronze Star Medal for Valor, the Ranger Tab, the Parachutist Badge, the Bronze Star Medal for overseas service, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal with Campaign Star, Global War on Terrorism Service Ribbon, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon, NATO Medal, Combat Infantryman’s Badge and Expert Infantryman’s Badge.
When he got out of the Army, Villanueva decided to give the NFL a try. After attending the NFL combine, he was signed by the Philadelphia Eagles. When released, the Steelers signed him to the practice squad in August 2014 and today he is the starting left tackle. He credits his military background with influencing his approach to football.
During his time with the team, Villanueva has participated in several events and appearances honoring fellow military personnel and veterans. Heroes at Heinz Field brings a group of veterans to the Steelers’ stadium where players run drills and spend time honoring the heroes. At last year’s event, Alejandro was even reunited with one of the members of his battalion, the 2-87 Infantry from when he was deployed to the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, NY. At the 2016 event, he again spent time talking with the veterans about their experiences.
During the team’s trip to San Diego for Monday Night Football in 2015, Villanueva and several of his teammates went to the VA Hospital to visit a Pittsburgh native Navy SEAL, who was injured and paralyzed in a training maneuver. Their visit brought a smile to a fellow hero who will remember the night for the rest of his life. Villanueva and two other teammates visited the VA Hospital and spent time with patients there, talking about their experiences during their time in the military and afterwards.
Alejandro makes it a point to meet as many of the current and former military personnel that are guests of the Steelers at their games and is always seen proudly singing our National Anthem.
You can get more info on the Salute to Service Award here.