10 Pro Athletes Who Served Their Country in the Military
These sports figures did a lot more than just wear jerseys and win games — some of these names may really surprise people
During the World War II and Korean War eras, the United States military featured some all-time great pro athletes.
Major League Baseball Hall of Famers such as Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Whitey Ford, Jackie Robinson, Yogi Berra, and Bob Feller all served in uniform.
However, in more recent years, it’s become much rarer to see athletes give up some of their peak athletic years to serve their country. With that in mind, here is a look at 10 pro athletes from the 21st century who have served in the military.
Some of the names may surprise you.
1.) Dave Robinson. Nicknamed "The Admiral," this basketball Hall of Famer put up over 20,000 points in his NBA career. He was the first overall pick in the 1987 NBA draft out of the U.S. Naval Academy — but he did not start playing in the league until 1989, as he served his country for two years at the Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Georgia, where he was a civil engineering officer.
Despite his nickname, Robinson finished his service as a lieutenant junior grade (O-2).
2.) Pat Tillman. Tillman is that rare modern example of a player who gave up millions of dollars and prime athletic years to serve his country.
Pat Tillman spent four years in the NFL but turned down a $3.6 million contract from the Arizona Cardinals prior to the 2002 season to enlist in the Army.
The defensive back spent four years in the NFL, but he turned down a $3.6 million contract from the Arizona Cardinals prior to the 2002 season to enlist in the Army. Tillman served in the 2nd Ranger Battalion, which belongs to the 75th Ranger Regiment. The specialist served in the Iraq War as well as the war in Afghanistan, but was killed in friendly fire back in 2004. For his service, the country posthumously awarded him a Silver Star and Purple Heart.
3.) Alejandro Villanueva. This Army veteran received attention this season for standing for the national anthem while the rest of his Pittsburgh Steelers teammates either waited to go onto the field or stayed behind in the locker room.
Villanueva, a 6-foot-9, 320-pound starting left tackle, graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 2010, but his NFL career did not start until 2014. Prior to his professional football years, Villanueva was a captain and an Army ranger who did three tours of duty in Afghanistan. Villanueva received a Bronze Star for his service.
4.) Mike Anderson. The former NFL running back did not play any high school sports and joined the Marines prior to attending college, where he started playing touch football. This helped him earn a spot on a junior college team; after excelling there, he played two years of Division 1 football for the Utah Utes. After that, the Denver Broncos selected him in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL draft — and he shocked the league by running for 1,487 yards and 15 touchdowns in his rookie season.
5.) Tim James. James was a first-round pick in the 1999 NBA Draft after winning Big East Co-Player of the Year, and he spent parts of three seasons in the league before pursuing a pro career overseas.
When his basketball career ended, James enlisted in 2008 in the Army, where he was a specialist in Task Force ODIN (observe, detect, identify, and neutralize), an Army aviation battalion. Once his military career ended, he became a coach at Vance-Granville Community College in Henderson, North Carolina.
6.) Shauna Rohbock. A multi-talented athlete, Rohbock (pictured above on the right) has represented her country in many ways. Rohbock was a notable soccer player at Brigham Young University before moving on to play a season for the San Diego Spirit, part of the now-defunct Women's United Soccer Association.
After that, however, she competed in Olympic bobsledding twice — and won a Silver Medal in 2006. She has also served in the Utah Army National Guard since 2000 and is a sergeant.
7.) Bernard James. This former NBA center did not finish high school, so his tenure in the U.S. Air Force is a major reason he was able to enjoy the sort of success he did as an athlete.
James (pictured above on the left) spent six years as a security forces specialist and as a member of the 9th Security Forces Squadron. He did tours in Iraq, Qatar and Afghanistan for Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. Following his military tenure, James played basketball at Tallahassee Community College in Florida for two seasons before transferring to Florida State. He was selected in the second round of the 2012 NBA draft and spent three seasons with the Dallas Mavericks.
8.) Chris Rowley. Before Rowley, no West Point graduate had played Major League Baseball. Unable to play organized baseball in 2014 and 2015, the right-handed pitcher made six appearances in 2017 as a rookie. The first lieutenant was originally stationed at Fort Sill, adjacent to Lawton, Oklahoma.
After that, he went to Eastern Europe for Operation Atlantic Resolve, protecting the area from a potential Russian invasion.
9.) Joe Cardona. The New England Patriots confused many when they selected long snapper Cardona in the fifth round of the 2015 NFL draft — as he still needed to fulfill his contract coming out of the U.S. Naval Academy.
Cardona is actually able to serve and play in the NFL at the same time. During his rookie season, he reportedly had a 40-hour work week as an officer at the Naval Preparatory Academy in Newport, Rhode Island, to juggle with practices and games. Now, however, he is in the reserves and mostly does his required military work during the offseason.
10.) Ahmard Hall. After a successful high school football career in Texas, Hall spent five years (1998-2002) in the Marines as a field radio operator. He did a tour in Afghanistan — and rose to the rank of sergeant before his contract was over.
He then played for the Texas Longhorns and was a part of its 2005 National Championship team. Following that season, he was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Tennessee Titans and was a serviceable blocker for All-Pro running back Chris Johnson.
(photo credit, homepage image: Go Army Experience at U.S. Army All-American Bowl, CC BY 2.0, by Jessica Ryan, U.S. Army / Alejandro Villanueva, CC BY-SA 2.0, by Jeffrey Beall; photo credit, article image: Admiring Olympic Silver, CC BY 2.0, by Tim Hipps, U.S. Army)