During Sunday’s game between the Philadelphia Eagles and Chicago Bears, former cheerleader Rachel Washburn took the field yet again. This time, she was honored as a “Hometown Hero” for her two tours of duty in Afghanistan with the United States Army.
“Rachel really is the epitome of an American hero,” Barbara Zaun, the Eagles director of cheerleading, told the NFL team’s website.
Rachel’s decision to get involved with the military actually came preceded her cheerleading tenure with the Eagles. Her dad was a career military man and Rachel frequently moved around during her childhood. When applying for college, she had her heart set on Drexel University in Philadephia and figured the best way to finance her education was with an ROTC scholarship.
“I thought, ‘Oh, I like camping and I like athletic things,'” Rachel told the Eagles website. “With that very naïve outlook of what ROTC was, I went ahead and applied for the scholarship, received it and it turned out to be one of the best decisions that I had ever made.”
Once at Drexel, Rachel also got involved with the dance team. Despite having no prior cheerleading experience, she then decided to try out for the NFL squad. She made the 2007 team and spent the next three years performing on the sidelines, visiting VA hospitals and even going on a USO tour to Iraq with the cheerleading team.
“The women I worked with at the Eagles were some of the most talented and most intelligent people that I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing,” Rachel said of her teammates. “We’re all beautiful women who are there to be entertaining at games, but also, we are incredibly involved in the community.”
Even though she had a positive experience with the Eagles cheerleading squad, Rachel moved on in 2010 to join the Army’s Cultural Support team. In the new position, Rachel said she helped “fulfill a tactical gap in Afghanistan” by engaging with local women and children.
She has since been awarded the Bronze Star Medal, the Army Commendation Medal and the Combat, Airborne and Air Assault Badges. (She also helped deliver a baby during a snowstorm while receiving instructions via radio. No big deal…)
Rachel is now stationed in Georgia as a platoon leader, but made the trip up to Philadelphia to receive the “Hometown Hero” honor on Sunday. She also got her wish of watching the Eagles win another game.