Rachel Washburn used to cheer on the Philadelphia Eagles. On Sunday night, the NFL team cheered her on by honoring the former cheerleader-turned-U.S. Army officers as a Hometown Hero during the Eagles-Bears game.
Washburn, a 25-year-old who served as an Eagles cheerleader from 2007-2010, traded in her pom poms and Eagles cheerleading outfit for U.S. Army fatigues to serve in Afghanistan.
An Army brat who moved around during her childhood when her father, Lon, served in the military, Washburn came to Philadelphia to attend college at Drexel University.
“She really, really wanted to live in Philadelphia,” her father told the Eagles website. “She’s a serious history buff. She had visited there and had done some other things with her high school class out in the eastern Pennsylvania area, so she applied for the ROTC scholarship, and she ended up getting quite a lucrative scholarship.”
Rachel arrived at Drexel in 2006 and tried out for a spot on the Eagles cheerleading team after hearing about a friend’s success with the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers cheerleading squad. Rachel made it onto the Eagles squad despite never taking a cheerleading lesson.
Rachel told the Eagles website that there’s more that goes into being a cheerleader than fans see at NFL games. The job also has a huge community service component, she said.
“That’s something that I always try to verbalize because 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,” she 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.”
Rachel joined the military after graduating college, and at age 25, the former Eagles cheerleader has already received the Bronze Star, the Army Commendation medal and the Combat, Airborne and Air Assault badges.
Cheerleading helped Rachel be a better soldier. She said training to be an Eagles cheerleader improved her mental toughness.
“I remember my first game incredibly vividly,” she said. “When I was going through the Cultural Support Team training, we had to do mental toughness training every couple of days. 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.”
Rachel was honored at Sunday night’s game between the Eagles and Chicago Bears as a Hometown Hero. The NFL franchise said that although Rachel is not a Philadelphia native, she made the city her home and said the former cheerleader “committed herself to the Eagles and then to her country.”
Rachel’s father said she has always considered herself a Philadelphian.
“The hometown part was really interesting, because she’s kind of from everywhere, but she calls Philadelphia her home, and she chose Philadelphia to call home,” he said. “Even on her military paperwork and whenever people ask her where she’s from, she says the same thing every time. She says ‘I’m kind of a military brat and I’ve lived all over, but I call Philadelphia home.’”
Rachel said she was “incredibly excited and humbled” by the honor.
“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,” she said. “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.”
Philadelphia will face off Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys for the NFC East championship, and they’ll have Rachel behind them.