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Military Day Extra Special For WR Baskett

Hank Baskett took a hard look around the practice fields at Lehigh University about 40 minutes after Tuesday morning's session.

He didn't see too much of anything. Except for kicker David Akers doing an interview and long snapper Jon Dorenbos entertaining a crowd, the wide receiver was the last player left on the field. And, in his view, for good reason.

The Eagles celebrated their annual Military Day at training camp, inviting members of all branches of the Armed Forces onto the field after practice. The soldiers had memorabilia autographed, pictures taken and conversations with the players. While most players and coaches stayed for quite a while, a select few remained as the crowds died down completely. Baskett was one.

He remarked repeatedly that he wouldn't leave until every soldier had an autograph, a picture, a handshake – or all three if they so wanted.

"Whenever I come to training camp, this is the one day I do mark off," Baskett said. "We wouldn't be (playing football) if it wasn't for what they were doing, so you really, really got to take the time to thank everybody."

For Baskett, it's the one day of camp he can't feel like the big star. He's as interested in the stories the soldiers tell him of their experiences as they are of his football career.

Today, his signature on miscellaneous items – including the receiver gloves he handed out – isn't merely a mechanical reaction. For the soldiers, it's a timestamp of a conversation and a reminder that the heroes they often stay sleepless until 4 AM to watch live overseas care, too.

"I've been an Eagles fan my entire life," said Sgt. Daniel Miller of the U.S. Marine Corps. "To be here for this, it's awesome. You can't compare."

The importance for Baskett isn't so much a distant admiration as it is an understanding and affection for military life. He grew up on military bases and became accustomed to the lifestyle. His father, Henry Jr., spent 30 years in the Air Force, and his mother, Judy, has been the chief financial adviser at the Cannon Air Force Base in Clovis, N.M. for longer than Hank has been alive. Even his brother served for 10 years in the Army.

Not surprisingly, Hank picked up on things quickly.

"Man, I can name everything that flies through the sky," he told a group of soldiers. "It's all I knew."

His interest in the military is more than passing. He and his family recently took a trip to McGuire Air Force Base in Burlington County, N.J. for the grand opening of the USO Club there, where the self-described "kid in a candy shop" was taken on a personal tour. And next spring, Baskett and his father want to take a trip to Iraq to talk to the soldiers there.

For now, he'll hear first-hand accounts from the soldiers he meets here.

"I've just been asking them as many questions as they've been asking me," Baskett said. "They don't believe it when I tell them but I'm just as big a fan of them as they are of me. When I was growing up, they were the heroes, and they still are."

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