“It really came down to the first time I went to Iraq when I saw all the young people serving over there,” Ortiz told the USO, which he’s joined for four USO/Armed Forces Entertainment tours since 2007. “Then I saw some of them coming home at Bethesda and Walter Reed.”
While Ortiz made a name for himself as a tough guy, getting a first-hand glimpse at the harsh realities of war, both overseas and on the home front, packed an emotional punch.
“Many had been hit with IEDs, but they still wanted to get back out there, man,” Ortiz said. “It’s amazing to see the sense of family and brotherhood.”
From July 25-29, which was nicknamed “hell week,” ten wounded troops and veterans spent the day with the mixed martial arts idol inside the “Punishment Training Center,” which by all accounts, is aptly named.
“I really want to get them in great, great shape, even though they are already in good shape,” Ortiz said by phone from his gym. “I’m trying to push them and they’re taking it all in stride.”
In partnership with the USO and sponsored by Armed Forces Insurance, “Rehabbing with the Troops” is a program of Pro vs. GI Joe, a non-profit organization that connects American troops all over the world with their favorite pro athletes and celebrities through video game competitions and webcams.
Physical training is just one aspect of this unique program to aid in the recovery of wounded warriors. In this 4th annual All Star” season of “Rehabbing with the Troops,” greater emphasis has been placed on challenging wounded warriors to become active members of a growing community of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.
After “hell week,” wounded warriors are required to complete five weeks of at-home assignments, which in addition to continued workouts, are centered on creating online videos, writing blog posts, and recruiting fellow veterans to participate. The response from all ten wounded warriors has been enthusiastic, and to Ortiz, overwhelming.
“I feel like I got mixed into a great family,” he said.
While following @TitoOrtiz on Twitter to keep up with “hell week,” I learned that to support this innovative program, Facebook users can play a game called Auction Plums to gain a virtual window into the progress wounded warriors make during the course of the six-week program. There’s even an in-game virtual Tito Ortiz to whip you into shape.
Reflecting on the success of “Rehabbing with the Troops,” the real Tito Ortiz expressed complete admiration for men and women who have volunteered to serve our country, who the former UFC titleholder believes are America’s true champions.
“Hands down, the biggest heroes in the world are our troops, and I stand by them one hundred percent,” he said. “Having the opportunity to train with them is my honor, and really, my glory.” – Tom Sileo, USO Director of Story Development