WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. – The expressions on some of the Chiefs defensive lineman matched the airmen waiting for them Tuesday morning inside a hangar housing a B-2 Stealth Bomber.
The Chiefs contingent, which included team president Mark Donovan; defensive linemen Dontari Poe, Mike DeVito, Allen Bailey, Anthony Toribio and Jaye Howard; two cheerleaders; and KC Wolf, may have been in awe of the B-2 parked before them.
But the airmen standing in formation were in equal astonishment of their visitors.
Senior Airman James Clark of Warsaw, Mo., said Tuesday was the first time he’s experienced an event such as the team’s outing. Clark, who has served for four years, said he’s a “lifelong Chiefs fan” and he coveted the players taking time to pay the base a visit.
“It means a lot to see them come out here and that they care,” Clark said. “It’s kind of surreal. They’re celebrities to me, the biggest celebrities in the world to me. I don’t follow the Hollywood stuff, but the Chiefs, those are my celebrities.”
The respect and admiration went both ways.
“I think I’m probably more excited than they are at this point,” defensive tackle Dontari Poe said. “They come out with open arms, invite us in their place of work and it’s highly appreciated.”
Defensive end Mike DeVito agreed.
“What an awesome experience that was,” DeVito said. “It was great to go there and see the troops, spend time with their families. I think we were just as excited to see them as they were to see us.”
The Chiefs annual visit to Whiteman for a fourth straight year coincides with the NFL’s “Salute to Service” campaign, which recognizes veterans and members of the U.S. armed forces. In addition to touring the B-2, the Chiefs participated in a Play 60 event at Whiteman Elementary.
In recent years, the Chiefs have visited local veteran hospitals and Army installations, Fort Leavenworth and Fort Riley. The team is also partnered with the Veterans of Foreign Wars, which is headquartered in Kansas City, Mo.
Given the team’s commitment to the armed services, the meaning of Tuesday wasn’t lost on Chiefs team president Mark Donovan.
“We unite this community, they unite our nation,” Donovan said of the troops. “What you see today is what you see every Sunday, a group of people from all different walks of life coming together because of the Chiefs and that’s something special. It’s humbling for us and it’s a responsibility that we take seriously and that’s why we’re here.”
Meanwhile, defensive tackle Anthony Toribio said he fulfilled a dream of seeing a B-2 in person.
The Florida native said Tuesday was his first time on a military installation and he grew up loving the plane after seeing it during an air show as a youth.
But at the same time, Toribio said he really enjoyed interacting with the airmen.
“It was also great to see the guys that protect us,” Toribio said. “It if weren’t for them, we wouldn’t be able to play on Sundays. It was an experience I’ll always remember.”
The players’ reaction to seeing the B-2 was evident to Clark, but he was humbled when the players told the airmen they were heroes.
“It kind of makes your day when they say we’re their hero and they’re who we look up to,” Clark said. “They saw the B-2 and they had the same look we did when they came in. It was pretty cool.”
Airman 1st Class Joshua Smith, a native of Chillicothe, Mo., said he’s rooted for the Chiefs since a small child and like Clark appreciated the team’s visit.
“We support them and everybody else 24/7, 365, they show their support of us,” Smith said. “It’s awesome.”
Based on the memorabilia passed around to players for autographs, almost all the airmen in attendance were Chiefs fans.
Their smiles and enthusiasm were noticed by defensive lineman Jaye Howard, who said he enjoyed every minute of the time spent with the troops.
“They’re really die-hard Chiefs fans; you can see that,” Howard said. “Those guys risk their lives and being there really meant a lot.”