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Army Captain Visits Jim Harbaugh, 49ers Rookies on Cross-country Trek for Fallen Soldiers

Posted Jun 6, 2014

Captain Mike Viti started "Mike's Hiking for Heroes" to honor 6,810 fallen soldiers during the War on Terror. By the end of his tour, he will have covered 7,100 kilometers on foot.

Looking at Mike Viti's old Army football player bio, the ex-serviceman appears to be the San Francisco 49ers kind of player.

"Blue-collar" performer with hard-nosed approach to game ... craves contact ... harbors great will ... possesses tremendous desire to succeed.

A decade after his freshman season at the U.S. Military Academy, Viti visited the 49ers on Friday, the 70th anniversary of D-Day, because of what he's been doing in the years between.

Viti, who served as a platoon leader in Afghanistan from 2010 to '11, started "Mike's Hiking for Heroes," in conjunction with non-profit organization "Freedom Has a Face," to honor 6,810 fallen soldiers during the War on Terror. By the end of his trek, which began on April 26, he will have covered 7,100 kilometers on foot. His finish line: the Army vs. Navy game in Baltimore, Md. on Dec. 13.

He explained his mission to 49ers rookies at the team's SAP Performance Facility.

"We talked about being a great teammate because before you can be a team, you really have to understand what it is to be a teammate," said Viti, who earned a Bronze Star and concluded his service last year as a captain. "That's what I shared with them, and they took very well to it."

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San Francisco defensive backs coach Ed Donatell's daughter married Viti's West Point classmate, and a connection was made.

"Coach Harbaugh heard about the cause," Viti said. "The way he runs his organization and the culture and the vision he has for his team, I think there's a lot parallels there that can be drawn and a lot of lessons and synonomous characteristics that translate pretty easy. You don't have to be a military guy or have even a military background to understand solid, core values and apply them to team and what it means to be a teammate."

When he's not walking or visiting an NFL team, Viti is spending time in living rooms and dining rooms. He's finding the families of fallen soldiers and offering his support.

"The Gold Star families are the center of gravity for the project," said Viti, who will average 22 miles miles a day until next winter, although he's been doing 25 to 30 to make up for his "half-day" of 15 to 20 on days like Friday. "I'm a vehicle to raise awareness to a group of people that I think are underrepresented."

This was not lost on Harbaugh and his players.

"A lot of inspiration was gained," Harbaugh said. "We're honored to share a sideline.

"Our players watched the meeting, there was total silence and attention and terrific questions. There's a great respect that our football players have for what the military does. We do make parallels from time to time, but it's out of respect and honor for what our military does. To hear the insights of team when it's life and death and the goal is to protect our country from someone who has been there, that's gold for our players."

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