In December, in a downpour, Rittenberg charged onto the field waving the American flag at Arrowhead Stadium as part of the Kansas City Chiefs' "Salute to Service" game against the San Diego Chargers. He played his part in a ceremony involving all branches of service, one that included honors for hometown service members, recognized area units and leaders – a wounded warrior even left with a car.
Rittenberg's role with the Chiefs went far beyond flag-waving – he was in the middle of a yearlong assignment as the team's Army liaison, a position made possible by the service's Training with Industry program. He's one of four information operations officers now on assignment with leading businesses – others are at divisions of Coca-Cola, German engineering company Siemens and global public relations company Hill+Knowlton.
Their goal: Take best practices from these corporate giants and put them to good use with follow-on tours in the Army, everything from developing a social-media strategy to building the Army brand.
Maj. Jon Rittenberg's military outreach efforts with the Kansas City Chiefs included some high-profile conferences. Here, Rittenberg poses with Veterans Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Maj. Jon Rittenberg
"There are business in America that are absolute leaders on how to use information and how to maneuver in an information environment," said Col. Chip Bircher, director of the Army's IO proponent. "Social media to advertising to cyber defense to cyber protection, we need to do a better job of learning from that, bringing that back to our Army."
Rittenberg, the third officer to serve with the NFL franchise via the program, coordinated military events for the Chiefs, but also took part in the team's various planning processes, offering his take on everything from game-day protocol to long-term strategy.
The major, who deployed twice to Iraq and once to Afghanistan, joked that he has "a personality of being an empire-builder" and enjoyed "getting into whatever type of shenanigans I can here," but his input, solicited or not, didn't go unnoticed.
"We've been briefed by Jon and his predecessors on the way the Army does strategic planning and communications," said Bill Chapin, the team's senior vice president of business operations. "That has been very helpful, because we are able to use some of those models, or aspects of those models, or templates of those models, to create our communication flow, whether it's on game day, or in our business operation … or just strategic, outlining our business plan."
Rittenberg did his best to fit into the business-casual environment, including knowing when to step up with his planning suggestions … and when to step back.
"In-season, because these are such huge events, every home game we have, they get really focused on that next game and all the aspects of that next game," he said. "Knowing where the focus is going to be, and when the appropriate time [is] to bring up new ideas that might be a little further out, that was a big change for me." enlisted levelsBefore that comes what he called a "traveling road show" — duty supporting exercises in South Korea and Japan, as well as a conference in Australia that will come after his time in Kansas City ends this summer.
Bircher joked that the Army will "get our pound of flesh" out of Rittenberg during his follow-on assignment, but said the benefits from the major's ability to learn from the Chiefs' branding and strategic practices "is going to be worthwhile for years to come."
Aside from the business acumen, he'll also keep the memory of charging onto a field in front of 77,000 screaming Chiefs fans.
"My energy level was high, and I was afraid I would trip because it was raining very heavily," Rittenberg said of that December day. "Luckily my adrenaline helped out and I made the organization proud carrying Old Glory."
The Chiefs beat the Chargers, 10-3.
Maj. Jon Rittenberg's time with the chiefs overlapped with Congressional investigations into the NFL and other pro sports leagues receiving money from the Defense Department as part of events designed to honor service members. Rittenberg said he couldn't speak for other franchises, but that "the Chiefs never charged. … I knew, everyone that came, we were providing tickets, parking passes – no one was paying for anything."
Kevin Lilley is the features editor of Military Times.