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Before he reported to training camp with the Chicago Bears, Charles Tillman spent a few days in San Diego meeting and thanking U.S. Armed Forces personnel for their service.

As part of a tour coordinated by USO Illinois in cooperation with USO San Diego June 29-July 1, the Pro Bowl cornerback visited a Naval hospital, Naval base and Marine Corps installation, signing autographs and posing for photos with service members and their families.

“The thing I try to tell people about our military is even if you don’t have any military ties, walk up to someone in the military and just say thank you,” Tillman said. “All you need to say is, ‘thank you. I appreciate what you do. Thank you for your time and service.’”

Having grown up the son of an Army sergeant, Tillman empathizes with service members.

“These people are away from their families, their kids, their loved ones for months at a time on deployments,” Tillman said. “They’ve got families. They want to be home. They miss birthdays and the birth of their kids. They miss all types of stuff and I just want them to know that I appreciate the hard job that they have.”

Tillman delivered that message in person in San Diego, first when he visited wounded, injured and ill and members of the military and their families at the Bob Wilson Naval Hospital, a technologically-advanced Navy medical treatment facility.

The next stop on the tour was Naval Base Point Loma, which consists of seven facilities, including a submarine base, antisubmarine warfare training center and a combat training center. Approximately 22,000 Navy and civilian personnel live on the base.

While visiting Point Loma, Tillman toured a submarine.

“It was pretty awesome,” he said. “It really gave you a better respect for what submariners do. You see all these cool movies like ‘Crimson Tide’ and ‘U-571’. But when you get on a sub and you see how tight it is—the quarters that these people have to live in for six months at a time—you’re just like, ‘wow.’ It was truly an amazing experience.”

Tillman enjoyed seeing the service members on the job.

“It really gives you a better respect and understanding of what they do when you see them in their work environment,” he said. “They see me in my work environment all the time on TV. I like to physically go there, see what they do, see how they live and see what their mission is.

“They’re constantly patrolling and protecting. Liberty isn’t free and neither is democracy and they do a good job of defending that. I just wanted to go out there and let them know I appreciate them.”

Tillman also visited the Marine Corps Station Recruit Depot, where over 21,000 recruits are trained each year. He ran an obstacle course during his time there and stopped to see Marines recuperating from injuries at a rehabilitation center as well as a drill instructor monument.

Tillman has long been a supporter of military personnel and their families. He went on an eight-day trip to visit troops in Iraq and Kuwait in 2010, and met with wounded service members at the Schofield Army Barracks while in Hawaii for the Pro Bowl in 2013.

In 2012, Tillman returned home to Fort Hood, Texas, to donate a “Charles’ Locker” filled with iPads, computers and portable gaming systems on behalf of his Cornerstone Foundation to help patients pass the time during recovery and treatment.

Last Thanksgiving, Tillman and his wife, Jackie, delivered dinner to sailors who couldn't leave their posts as part of a "meals on wheels" visit to the Great Lakes Naval Station in suburban Chicago. A couple months later, the Bears cornerback gave two Super Bowl tickets to a military family.