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Audie Cole Proud to Honor Friend's Ultimate Sacrifice


Audie Cole often thinks about the courage and commitment by members of all branches of the military.

On Sunday, however, the Vikings linebacker will again pay tribute to a former high school and youth league teammate, Army Pfc Eric Hario, by wearing a U.S. Army decal on the back of his helmet as part of the NFL's annual "Salute to Service" initiative.

"It means a lot. I think about it a lot, the people that go out and do that, not only Eric and not just the Army, there are people in all branches of the military that have gone over, served and done things that I can't even imagine," Cole said. "I have the utmost respect for them and the things they do. They go over, do what they've got to do, take care of business and do it for us."

Pfc Hario was 19 when he died in combat in Afghanistan on Aug. 29, 2009. He had fulfilled his lifelong dream of serving in the Army and enlisted in June 2008, shortly after graduating from Monroe High School. A member of the 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, Pfc Hario was awarded the National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon and the Parachutist Badge.

Cole was a year older than Pfc Hario, who wore No. 62 and played offensive and defensive line and wrestled in high school.

"People back home, to this day, there's so much support for Eric and his family. They're just so proud of who he was and what he did," Cole said. "That's the kind of guy he was. He was commitment, a team guy, always working hard. In the offseason, he was in the weight room with everyone, kind of running it, was real strong. He was a great guy, and that was kind of always his goal, to serve in the military.

"He wasn't just going to be in the Army, he wanted to become a Ranger," Cole added. "He was mentally tough."

Cole said Pfc Hario's legacy has been continued at the school.

"They always tell all the kids the story because we're proud of him," Cole said. "I think his jersey is the only number that's retired. They tell everyone every year that this is a guy to look up to who paid the ultimate sacrifice."

After finishing his collegiate career at N.C. State, Cole was selected in the seventh round of the 2012 NFL Draft. He has played 48 games, including each one this season. Cole served as special teams captain in Week 3 when Minnesota defeated Carolina and is a core special teams player under the direction of Mike Priefer, who flew helicopters during his service in the Navy.

Cole said Priefer's service is highly respected by teammates.

"I think the military instills so many characteristics and qualities of discipline in people," Cole said. "Coach Priefer, it's where he learned them, and he instills those kinds of things in us. It's always great when Prief' starts telling us a story. All eyes are locked in on him, and everyone is so interested. He takes pride in it. I think that's a good thing."

Several of Cole's teammates also are honoring friends or relatives who have served or currently serve in the military. Below is a list of decals and the people they represent:

Blair Walsh (Marines | Uncle)

Shaun Hill (Navy | Friend)

Jeff Locke (Air Force | Father)

Adam Thielen (Army | Grandfather)

Jerick McKinnon (Navy | Family)

Harrison Smith (Navy | Grandfather)

Jayron Kearse (Army | Uncle)

Xavier Rhodes (Army | Cousin)

Anthony Harris (Army | Grandfather)

Zach Line (Air Force | Father-in-law)

Chad Greenway (National Guard | Cousin)

Nick Easton (Army | Grandfather)

T.J. Clemmings (Army | Friend)

Jeremiah Sirles (Marines | Cousin)

Kyle Rudolph (Marines | Cousin)

David Morgan II (Air Force | Grandfather)

Tom Johnson (Air Force | Brother-in-law)

Everson Griffen (Air Force | Friend)

Danielle Hunter (Marines | Uncle)

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