Video: Peyton Manning Surprises Air Force Veteran, NFL Mega-Fan for Veteran’s Day

by Josh Lanier

Jessica Astorga remembers the hectic pace of serving as a nurse in the U.S. Air Force. During her two tours, the pace needed to help the injured was nearly unrelenting. It was stressful and alienating, she said. But there were moments when she could reconnect with home by watching NFL games on the break room television. She didn’t have a favorite team, but she did have a favorite player: Peyton Manning.

Manning, one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, reached out to Astorga recently via video conference to thank her for her service.

“Thanks for being a great supporter and fan of mine, but more importantly thank you for your service to our country and your sacrifice for all the work that you do with WoVeN, and just know that I’m a fan of yours as well,” Manning said in the video.”

“… “Keep up the great work you’re doing to help many others. Just know that you’re in my thoughts and my prayers, and I’ll be pulling for you.”

Astorga said she still finds inspiration and hope from Peyton Manning. One of her favorite quotes comes from the two-time Super Bowl winner.

“I’m totally convinced that the end of my football career is just the beginning of something I haven’t even discovered yet,” she said, reciting a line from Manning’s retirement speech.

She said that line has helped her as she transitions from her military career into other, new avenues of life.

Peyton Manning thanks Astorga for WoVeN Work

Astorga served two tours — in Iraq as well as Afghanistan —during her 13 years in the Air Force. She said returning home from her second tour was difficult. Doctors diagnosed her with depression and Astorga received a medical discharge from the military.

But she’d still found comfort in being with other veterans. She said she often turned to veterans groups for help. COVID-19, however, complicated matters as it forced most military support groups to go virtual.

That was when Astorga found the Women Veterans Network, better known as WoVeN. The group’s website says it “connects women Veterans of all eras and service branches and empowers them with information, education, and resources to improve their quality of life. By building strong connections among women Veterans, WoVeN groups are designed to enhance wellness, relationships, and career satisfaction”

Astorga felt called to serve again, recently. She serves her community as a peer leader for the group near her home in Dayton, Ohio.

“I help other women who are in the same situations I was,” she said.

This time, though, Peyton Manning was inspired by her.