Domenik Hixon is a strong advocate for those in the armed forces
It will happen before Sunday's game in Cincinnati, just as it has happened before every football game that Domenik Hixon has played since his father began coaching him when he was growing up on a U.S. Army base in Kaiserlautern, Germany.
About five minutes before kickoff, Hixon will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with his Giants teammates on the sideline, hear the first few notes of "The Star-Spangled Banner" and feel an almost indescribable wave of gratitude and pride wash over him.
The wide receiver then will do what he always does. He will offer a silent prayer for all the men and women who serve or have served in the armed forces.
"I just say thank you and ask God to protect our soldiers," Hixon said. "They deserve that every day, not just on Veterans Day."
Though Sunday officially is Veterans Day, it is being celebrated Monday because it falls on a weekend. For many Americans, Veterans Day means little more than a day the banks are closed, the mail isn't delivered and the kids are out of school. But for Hixon, whose father spent 18 years serving in the U.S. Army, it is a much-needed reminder of the huge debt he believes all Americans owe the men and women who have served their country.
Hixon is passionate about his beliefs that Americans need to support veterans. He recently teamed with MetLife to announce a two-year, $40.5-million partnership between MetLife, MetLife Foundation, the Local Initiatives Support Corporation and the National Equity Fund to develop new affordable housing and social services for veterans.
According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, 200,000 veterans are homeless on any given night and 400,000 veterans will experience homelessness during the course of a year. In addition, 23 percent -- almost one out of four -- homeless people are veterans.
"These are men and women who gave their lives for our country, and now they don't have a place to live," Hixon said, shaking his head. "It's tough for me to sit back and accept that."
Hixon's family never experienced homelessness in their new life in Ohio after Hixon's father, who was a master sergeant, left the military. Marvin Hixon, a police officer in the Columbus suburb of Gahanna, decided to retire from the military because he wanted Domenik, a talented athlete, to be able to attend high school in the United States.
Though he went right into the police academy, Marvin said the transition was stressful.
"I know the anxiety of getting out of the military and starting a new life," Marvin said in a phone interview. "I was blessed that I wasn't injured and I hadn't gotten sick with Gulf War Syndrome like a lot of people. I also had a plan. But there are a lot of veterans that don't really have a plan, and when they get out, they can't get a job. How sad is that? They served our country and put their life on the line for us and now they can't find a job."
Marvin, 51,was 19 when he enlisted in the Army and was sent to Germany. Soon after, he met and married his wife, Birgit. Domenik is their only child, and he quickly became the center of their universe.
Though Marvin frequently was away from their home on the base -- he served in Desert Storm and Desert Shield -- he coached Domenik's athletic teams when he was on base.
The family is extremely close -- last Sunday's post-superstorm game at MetLife Stadium was the first home game they've missed -- and that closeness has helped Hixon get through some tough times.
In his first professional football game, with the Broncos in September 2007, Hixon was returning a kickoff when Kevin Everett of the Bills knocked him to the ground. Everett suffered a broken spine making that hit. Though he eventually was able to walk again, the injury ended his career.
Everett's injury also threatened to end Hixon's career. He was released from the Broncos a month later; distraught about Everett's situation, he contemplated whether he still wanted to play football.
The Giants offered him a spot and he accepted. Two Super Bowls later, he has become an important third option for quarterback Eli Manning. With 25 catches for 372 yards in eight games, Hixon is on track to have his most productive season as a pro.
"Domenik has done tremendous, to the point where he's one of those guys you're thinking about, 'Hey, we have to get him involved more,' " offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said. "Whenever we've asked him to perform, he's stepped up to the plate and done a great job. In terms of when the third receiver has been in there, he's done a nice job for us. He's more than fulfilled what we've needed from that spot."
He's also more than fulfilled the dreams his parents had for him. His father, who will be at Sunday's game in Cincinnati, called his son "big-hearted" and said he is proud that he is using his platform to try to help veterans.
"Freedom isn't free. That's something we always talked about when he was growing up," Marvin said. "Once you get out of the military, the military doesn't take care of you like they are supposed to. Domenik has talked to a lot of veterans and he understands what they are going through. I'm very proud that he is trying to do something about it."