HASTINGS, Minn. – Kyle Hinton knows what it's like to grow up in a military family.
Hinton's parents, Curt Hinton and Shonda Hightower-Hinton, served 20 years and five years in the U.S. Army, respectively.
The Vikings guard recalls the challenges of his father being away from home during four separate deployments and the way athletics – specifically, football – helped him navigate those times. It's why Hinton jumped at the chance to join teammate Harrison Phillips in spending time with military kids and their guardians through United Heroes League last week.
"Pretty much all I've known is football and the military, so I know the importance of supporting the military family as well as the active service member," Hinton said. "It was very important for me to get out here and support the kids. I was in their shoes, as well. I know those events were pretty important to me. I'm glad to be here."
United Heroes League over the past 10 years has given $25 million to more than 100,000 military family members. Its mission is to keep military kids active and healthy through sports while their parents serve our country.
Hinton recalled the positive impact of the United Service Organizations made on him as a youngster; those memories have motivated him to be involved with an organization like United Heroes League.
"I just remember the USO having great events for all the families going through tough times," Hinton said. "And sports played a huge part of it. Just having other kids, being together, going through the same things and having that team aspect of playing football and coming together, it just really helped me out."
The Vikings have partnered with UHL over the years to support and advocate for military families, particularly around the NFL's Salute to Service initiative.
UHL Board Member Mark Kocer welcomed Hinton, Phillips and the families and told them about an upcoming project.
"We are super excited to announce that we're going to have the first completely nationwide sports facility dedicated specifically for military families," he said. "It will include a football field, a soccer field, an outdoor ice rink, as well as an indoor facility. We're going to make a huge difference, and we're going to be able to show that with our community here.
"Many of the people here with us are former veterans like myself, and we are just tickled and pleased to be able to give back," Kocer added. "I really want to thank the Minnesota Vikings for partnering with us. Everything that you guys do, everything you have done to support military veterans and the veteran community is just super impactful."
Kocer, UHL Vice President of Operations Edwin Adricula, UHL Vice President of Special Projects Joey Hudella and other UHL staff members gave a tour of the headquarters to the day's special guests.
Included on the tour was an in-progress memorial that contains 40,000 tiles of names and ranks of service members, the years they served and also the accomplishments and declarations they received.
"This is something that we would like to share with the community so that we can commemorate all these heroes who have served our country," Adricula said.
Phillips was especially touched by the memorial.
The defensive tackle explained that both of his grandfathers served, as did both grandfathers of his fiancée, Shae.
"Salute to Service is one of my favorite things that the NFL does. Through my foundation, Harrison's Playmakers, we also try to find ways to give back to our local veterans," Phillips said.
"To see the Vikings logo over there on the memorial [as a sponsor] is really cool," he added. "It's been a privilege to be part of this organization and see what the [Wilf Family Ownership Group does] – how big it is to give back. … It honestly encourages me to give back more than I already do."
While the Vikings teammates were advised against trying any obstacles mid-season, some of the youth in the group excitedly took on the challenge.
Minnesota Army National Guard SFC Ashley Olson smiled as she watched her three sons – ages 12, 7 and 5 – attempt some of the stops on the course.
"It's nice to have an organization such as this to support us and to provide opportunities for our children," said Olson, who has served for 20 years. "I'm just amazed at how the community comes together to support the organization and the outreach to the military community – and especially the children.
"It means a lot to have Kyle and Harrison here," Olson added. "I didn't have an opportunity like that when I was younger, so I'm kind of living vicariously through my boys now that they get to experience something like this – especially because we are huge Vikings fans."
As the event wrapped up, Hinton offered a message to families experiencing the same things he did as a child.
"Just keep going. You guys are serving, as well," Hinton said. "I know it seems like maybe you're overlooked, but there are a lot of people supporting you and a lot of people who have your backs."
Vikings & Delta team up for community blood drive
In addition to last week's visit to United Heroes League, the Vikings also partnered with Delta to host a community blood drive at the Minnesota Vikings Museum.
The event welcomed 75 donors, including 32 first-time donors.
Among those who donated were community members, Vikings employees and Hall of Fame guard Randall McDaniel, who proudly rolled up his sleeve to make a difference. Vikings Legend Chuck Foreman also spent time at drive, welcoming donors and thanking them for their participation.
The blood drive, presented by Delta, ultimately collected 61 whole blood and 18 power red units.
View photos from the Vikings and Delta Airlines community blood drive held at the Minnesota Vikings Museum.