George Kittle

Why retired Army veteran gifted 49ers star Kittle his military uniform

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George Kittle is the 49ers’ NFL Salute to Service Award finalist for all that he gives back to the men and women of the Armed Forces, but last Sunday in Jacksonville, a veteran decided to return the favor to the All-Pro tight end.

Christopher Kleinsorge brought a gift to EverBank Stadium for Kittle, and managed to grab the attention of his wife, Claire, on the sideline before the 49ers' win over the Jaguars. After a brief conversation, the Army veteran handed Claire Kittle three items, including a uniform piece he had worn while serving in Afghanistan 15 years ago.

“I wanted to give him something that really means something,” Kleinsorge told NBC Sports Bay Area. “I didn’t want to just present him with a certificate of appreciation. I wanted it to really be meaningful, and have meaning to him. So, why not something that I wore in Afghanistan?”

Kleinsorge, 43, grew up in Santa Rosa, and his wife, Christine, spent her youth nearby in Napa, making them lifelong 49ers fans. Kleinsorge, who now lives in Indialantic, Fla., served in Afghanistan from May 2007 until August 2008, and after eight and a half years of active duty, he was medically discharged from Fort Bragg, N.C.

“I always see the entire 49ers organization do things for veterans, and I’ve seen a whole lot of what George and his family do for us,” Kleinsorge said. “It’s important, just like we acknowledge our veterans, it’s important for me to acknowledge those who help us out.

“I wanted to give him something that really means something.”

The gift was made even more powerful by what the Army veteran wrote on the back of the uniform in permanent ink, along with his signature:

"To George Kittle,

As the 49ers Salute to Service nominee, on behalf of all military veterans I want to thank you for all you have done to help my fellow brothers and sisters in arms.

Respectfully, SSG (ret)
Chris Kleinsorge
Airborne, 173rd, 82nd"

Football meant even more to Kleinsorge during his deployment overseas, offering a brief respite from his duties and a feeling of home. For at least three and half hours, he said it felt “like I was there.”

Kittle has continued giving Kleinsorge and other veterans the feeling of being included and appreciated, through the game and his efforts off the field. Kittle’s involvement with the military stems from his uncle, Pat, and his grandfather, Carl, who both served.

“His dedication to it,” Kleinsorge said about what impresses him so much about Kittle. “He’s willing to do whatever he needs to do, giving his time and his money. Those things are worth something. For veterans to be enough to spend all that time doing it, it’s just outstanding.”

49ers tight end George Kittle wears a hat gifted to him by retired veteran Christopher Kleinsorge.

Photo by Jennifer Lee Chan/NBC Sports Bay Area

Kleinsorge attended the 49ers' Week 10 win with his brother-in-law, Kevin King Jr., who's also a veteran. Christine Kleinsorge originally planned to attend the game, but knowing it was a part of the NFL’s Salute to Service month, she gave her seat to her brother.

In the locker room after the win, upon seeing a video of the inscription on the back of the uniform, Kittle was incredibly surprised and appreciative. He was so moved that it prompted him to offer to fly Kleinsorge and his wife to Northern California for the 49ers' Week 11 home matchup with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

So, Kleinsorge and his wife will be in attendance at Levi's Stadium on Sunday, which just so happens to be the 49ers' Salute to Service game.

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