As a Philadelphia Eagles cheerleader from 2007 through 2010, Rachel Washburn spent a lot of time on the sidelines at Lincoln Financial Field during NFL games.
On Sunday night, three years after leaving the squad to join the Army, 1st Lt. Washburn came full circle, returning to the field where she once led cheers to receive the team's Hometown Hero award during the Eagles' 54-11 victory over the Chicago Bears.
"I'm incredibly excited and humbled by it," Washburn said. "I always thought that was such a wonderful thing that the Eagles did -- that every game they chose somebody to showcase what they had done for every single person in that stadium.
"I'm so honored because I call Philadelphia home, I love the Eagles so much and I'm just excited to be home in Philadelphia and watch the Eagles win."
The highly decorated 25-year-old says her experiences as a cheerleader have actually served her well as a member of the Army's Cultural Support Team.
"When I was going through the Cultural Support Team training, we had to do mental toughness training every couple of days," said Washburn, who went on a USO tour of Iraq while with the Eagles. "One of the things that they taught us was how to kind tune into your happy place to remain mentally calm in stressful situations. My happy place just so happened to be what I remember my first game being like.
"We lined up in the end zones for the pre-game dance, and I just remember it being a beautiful August day, so that memory has always stuck with me, and of course the trip to Iraq was one of the greatest honors of my life, and I think back on it fondly often."
The daughter of a former Army and Air Force pilot, Washburn has served two tours in Afghanistan, earning such honors as a Bronze Star, the Army commendation medal and the combat, airborne and air assault badges. She even helped deliver a baby during a snowstorm.
Still, she said she's proud of the work she did before enlisting in the military as well.
"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," Washburn said. "We're all beautiful women who are there to be entertaining at games, but also, we are incredibly involved in the community, which is something that I am incredibly proud of, and I'm sure that all of the other girls feel the same way. I'm really proud of the Eagles organization putting us out there in that sort of capacity."