Behind The ScenesSportsCenterStarting 5

“We left there with a glimpse of the commitment it takes to keep us free”

After visiting the crew aboard a US Navy aircraft carrier, reporter Marty Smith shares his appreciation of military service as part of ESPN's Veterans Week

Marty Smith (R) greets a USS Carl Vinson crew member.

EDITOR’S NOTE: As part of ESPN’s Veterans Week, reporter Marty Smith, SportsCenter anchor Stan Verrett and college football analyst Tim Tebow set out to sea aboard a US Navy aircraft carrier. Smith reflects on what that time on the USS Carl Vinson meant to him.

It’s impossible to articulate how I felt aboard the USS Carl Vinson because myriad emotions collided at a complex intersection. And that intersection has no stop sign.

At one corner was excitement.

Wonder was at another.

The third was humility, and the last was an overwhelming sense of passion.

That makes for an intense experience.

It reminded me how small I am.

Because no matter how many sailors and pilots and crewmen we met — and we met hundreds — we kept going back to the center point location to which all those emotional roads led: appreciation.

Our core group — Stan Verrett and Tim Tebow, and producers Michael Fountain, Tom Engle, Patrick Abrahams and Jenny Keagan — all left the aircraft carrier, and the thousands of sailors who welcomed us, with such tremendous appreciation for their work and their diligence and their sacrifice and their conviction. We left there with a glimpse of the commitment it takes to keep us free.

We don’t appreciate freedom. We’re just free. Free to go and do and be and bicker and moan and laugh and love and cry. There’s a reason we’re free to do that.

It’s the sailors on the USS Carl Vinson and all men and women in uniform all across the world. They are why we are free.

They continuously thanked us for being there. I was so uncomfortable with that. In response, I’d thank them for their service. Thank you is important. However, having seen the meticulous work these folks do every minute, it seems shallow and unappreciative.

I know this: I’m a better person for the experience on the USS Carl Vinson.

We all are.

SportsCenter’s Veterans Day Salute special airs today (5:30 p.m. ET and 10:30 p.m., ESPN2) as well as Sunday, Nov. 11 (8:30 a.m., ESPN2).