Operation Hardwood – Hoops with the Troops: Episode 1

In 2006, 12 NCAA basketball coaches traveled to Kuwait to coach soldiers in a March Madness-style basketball tournament as part of "Operation Hardwood II."

Operation Hardwood was created in by the USO in 2005 to boost morale and bring a touch of home to those in uniform.  The USO has a long tradition of bringing sports figures and sports-related events to troops overseas,“Operation Hardwood” has deployed more than 35 NCAA basketball coaches and sports personalities to Kuwait and Japan.

In 2006, a group of elite coaches participated in “Operation Hardwood II,” coaching the basketball teams in Kuwait, and participating in combat drills, tank simulations, and visited injured troops in the hospital.
As part of a special four-part series, FOX Sports is looking back at this unique USO trip to see how it changed the lives of the soldiers and the coaches.  Through new interviews with some of the coaches – Rick Barnes, Tom Izzo, Kelvin Sampson, and Gary Williams – viewers get to see how their lives have been affected by the trip.  We hope you enjoy this series.  Let’s get it kicked off with Episode 1…

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Warrior Games Kick-off on Today Show!

Army Spc. Craig C. Smith, a below-the-right-knee amputee and Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran recovering at Walter Reed in Washington, D.C., gets ready to throw an outlet pass down court during a wheelchair basketball practice April 13, 2010, at Walter Reed. Smith and others recovering at Walter Reed are training for the inaugural Warrior Games May 10-14 in Colorado Springs, Colo. The games will feature Paralympic-style competitions to challenge disabled veterans and wounded active duty servicemembers. (DoD photo by Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden)

The Warrior Games are just days away!  These games will bring 200 wounded Troops and veterans together for Olympic-style feats of athleticism in Colorado Springs, beginning May 10 and running through May 14.

Before the games get started, though, members of Rolling Thunder are taking a cross-country tour, raising flags over Ground Zero, the Pentagon and Shanksville, Pa., and bringing those flags to the games as a way to honor all 9/11 victims.  Several athletes and a member of Rolling Thunder were featured on the Today Show this morning!

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Announcing Microsoft Elevate America’s Veterans Initiative!

Microsoft Corp. recently announced a competitive request for proposal (RFP) process for organizations to be a part of the Elevate America Veterans Initiative.  The initiative is designed to provide technology skills and support resources to veterans and their spouses when they transition to the civilian work force.  Applications are due on June 30, 2010, and the awardees will be named in August.  Click here to learn about eligibility and how your organization can participate.

The Elevate America Veterans Initiative is a new part of Microsoft’s Elevate America program, which provides free technology training in 17 states (more are coming soon) and already includes FREE online resources such as Microsoft Digital Literacy trainingMicrosoft Office Live Small BusinessMicrosoft StudentMicrosoft DreamSpark for Students, and Community Technology Skills Program Partners.

For the Veterans Initiative, “Microsoft has convened organizations serving veterans to serve on an advisory committee for the Veterans Initiative over the next two years to help provide guidance and expertise throughout this process. Organizations on the advisory committee include The American Legion, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), Paralyzed Veterans of America, United Service Organizations (USO), and Wounded Warrior Project.”  We’re proud to be a part of this innovative new program!

“We salute Microsoft for its ongoing support of the nation’s wounded veterans and wounded warriors,” says our President and CEO, Sloan Gibson. “The community-based efforts to support these troops and ease the transition from military to civilian life will improve their lives.”

“Wounded Warrior Project believes it is our duty to empower wounded service members with the tools they need to embark on a path toward a successful and meaningful career,” said WWP Executive Director Steve Nardizzi. “We commend Microsoft for creating Elevate America and for shouldering responsibility for the training and transition of our wounded warriors into the civilian work force.”

We invite veterans and their families to utilize the great resources already available, and we will keep you posted on the states and organizations that participate.  And you can always follow The USO and Elevate America on Twitter for the latest!

Click here to learn more about Elevate America’s Veterans Initiative!