- The Washington Times - Monday, May 18, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Emma Dockery doesn’t fit the mold for casting on reality shows like “Football Wives.” She hasn’t wasted her energy on contrived drama, and she isn’t waiting for a red carpet to roll itself out to give the appearance of making a difference.

What she did was roll up her sleeves and use her personal experiences growing up in a military family, being a wife to former Redskins guard Derrick Dockery and a mom to start Yellow Ribbons United, an organization that comes to the aid of members of the armed forces, their families and their children — especially their children.

“Death is hard,” Mrs. Dockery said in a phone interview yesterday, and sometimes it’s hard trying to get children to understand experiences that “are beyond their control.”

Mrs. Dockery spoke of her own difficulties when her mom died and her only sibling, Army Sgt. David Williams, died while deployed near Kandahar, Afghanistan. He was but 24 years old. Her baby brother.

“We [all] are a product of our experiences, even unfortunate circumstances,” Mrs. Dockery said. “We need to reach them while they’re young. Their grieving might not [manifest] until some time later. We need to never forget that a child’s loss, a family’s loss is our loss, too, our nation’s loss.”

On Saturday, this Memorial Day weekend, Yellow Ribbons United will be giving tight hugs to the young survivors — the “tiny heroes,” as Mrs. Dockery calls them — big afternoon hugs to members and their families in a special, invitation-only event in Southwest Washington.

Kids will get to interact and play with current and former NFL players, including Yellow Ribbons co-founder Derrick, Mrs. Dockery’s college sweetie who also played for the Bills and the Cowboys (argh).

Also on hand will be Hall of Fame cornerback Darrell Green, a former Redskin. And since the ‘Skins aren’t scheduled to play the Seattle Seahawks at home this season, it will be fans’ first opportunity to see the Seahawks’ new long snapper, former Army Green Beret Nate Boyer, who served multiple tours in Iraq. An undrafted free agent, Mr. Boyer signed with the Seahawks in early May.

If the expected 550 kids aren’t huge football fans, there will be tons of other goodies, thanks to partners that include American Girl dolls, those other “footballers” (D.C. United), the U.S. Tennis Association, Domino’s and local grocer Giant.

Another sponsor is Mission BBQ, which makes some of the best mouth-watering brisket and peach cobbler this side of the Appalachians. “We strive every day to remind everyone what makes our country great — its heroes,” Mission’s website says, where it also joins hands with the Wounded Warrior Project, the USO and other organizations to salute our troops.

Mrs. Dockery said she particularly wants to give a hearty appreciation to TAPS, the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, which comes to the aid of children and adults whose loved ones have paid “the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.” TAPS taps widows for retreats, guys get to unite and enjoy the wilds of Montana, and siblings who, like Mrs. Dockery, have lost a brother or sister, get to be as adventurous and inclusive as they please, too.

“I really an grateful for what they [TAPS] did for our family,” Mrs. Dockery said, adding that Yellow Ribbons is a natural outgrowth of the help from TAPS.

The Dockerys, unlike many players and football wives, thought about their post-NFL lives long before Mr. Dockery actually retired. Having met while students at the University of Texas at Austin, they both got their graduate degrees at George Washington University. He now works on Capitol Hill for a Republican congressman, while Mrs. Dockery pivoted toward serving military families.

She moved several times while growing up as the daughter of a military dad who retired as a colonel after 30 years. “We lived in San Francisco, Washington state, Dallas and D.C.,” she said. “My father was stationed three times in D.C. With Derrick playing here, this is the longest time I have lived anywhere.”

When her brother died in August 2012, “I did not want to wallow in self pity,” said Mrs. Dockery. “I knew I wanted to give back.”

“My background was in marketing [and] instead of the [traditional] marketing route I wanted to enrich lives, to teach the legacy before you leave,” said the mom to three — Madison, Mackenzie and Derrick. “You don’t know how long you have on the Earth to teach young people, to be the legacy before you leave. We have really good parents and were blessed to play 10 years [in the NFL.]”

There wasn’t even any serious deliberation about the name for their organization.

“You go with what you know,” she said of using “Yellow Ribbons,” a symbol of the families and hope since the Vietnam War-era. “Yellow ribbons are a universal symbol and yellow represents joy.”

Asked if she has a message, Mrs. Dockery, whose optimism is undeniable, even by phone, said: “Never forget. As a nation when we pause on Memorial Weekend, remember the children. When a person serves in the military, their whole family is committed to service. That why we call the children our ‘tiny heroes.’ They deserve our support.”

They certainly do.

Deborah Simmons can be reached at [email protected]

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