Alejandro Villanueva & Andy Guyader

Alejandro Villanueva – Army soldier and NFL prospect – is making a splash across America. From ESPN to CBS This Morning, media is lining up to learn more about this Army Ranger, this Bronze Star recipient, this three-tour veteran, this decorated hero.

But before the recent headlines, before the tours, even before he was a commissioned officer, I’ve known Alejandro Villanueva simply, and appropriately, as “Ali.”

This humble soldier is a perfect example of why we started Camo with a Cause and why we partnered with Team Red, White & Blue.

Alejandro VillanuevaWhen I first met Ali, he was a six-foot-nine-inch cadet playing offensive line for the United States Military Academy. Through some exciting – and somewhat crazy – experiment, then-head-coach Rich Ellerson shifted this 275-pound athlete from the anonymity of the offensive line to the spotlight position of wide receiver.

This was an experiment that made national headlines. It was an experiment my husband, Andy Guyader, was tasked with making a success.

It didn’t take long for all involved to realize Ali was extra special.

I remember reports of Ali accepting the challenge with enthusiasm. He asked for extra route-running drills. He worked at learning to block in space. He practiced catching the ball – something quite foreign to this lineman-turned-receiver – and he became proficient. He was a hard-worker and a positive captain for Army football.

And Ali did something this coach’s wife always appreciates: he took time to get to know me. He knew my name. He got to know our daughter. He gave me towering, yet gentle, bear hugs. After he graduated, he occasionally returned to watch Army football and would spend at least a quarter sitting with “Little STRUCTUREbags” and me.

Our conversations were about West Point football and the players that remained. We touched on his future plans – always focused on serving his country – and we would occasionally skim over his romantic status. (A coach’s wife knows: only ask enough so you know what to say when you meet the new person in their life…)

As I reflect on the short visits I had with Ali, the West Point motto always comes to mind: “Duty. Honor. Country.”

Alejandro VillanuevaThis is why I started Camo with a Cause. To give back to those who give so selflessly of themselves: the enlisted soldier serving with honor; the military spouse dutifully staying stateside; the West Point graduate who serves his country for reasons, as Ali recently told CBS This Morning: “I couldn’t stand by on the sidelines and watch the other people do the work. ”

So when I saw headlines announcing, “Alejandro Villanueva Signed by the Philadelphia Eagles,” I was thrilled, because I knew he was going after a dream.

A dream that is fun and exciting and challenging. And when we talked to him this week, he didn't forget that his NFL dream is one that helps highlight the military he proudly represents.

“West Point – and Army football – was a great part of my path in serving America. I am excited for this new opportunity, and happy it brings attention to other men and women who serve,” Ali said.

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STRUCTUREbags invests $1 per item sold from the Camo with a Cause line to Team Red, White & Blue’s ongoing social and athletic programs for veterans and their families.

STRUCTUREbags and Team Red, White & Blue, the national organization connecting veterans to their communities through physical and social activities, announced their strategic partnership in Fall 2013.

Leave a comment to let us know what inspires you about Ali or your favorite hero. #camowithacause