Texans’ J.J. Watt Helps Military Families Score The Ultimate Game Day Experience Through the USO

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Attending a Texans game isn’t cheap. From paying for tickets and parking, to making sure the whole family has enough to eat and drink, a trip to watch the Texans play costs the typical family hundreds of dollars. It’s a bill many Houston-area military families can’t foot.

That’s where Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, the Texans All Community Team (TACT) program and USO Houston come in.

Thanks to the TACT program, military families that might not have extra cash for Texans tickets have the opportunity to enjoy a game for free.

Texans players can purchase tickets for a charity of their choice via the TACT program. For the past three years, Watt, whose grandfather served in the Korean War, has chosen USO Houston as his TACT charity, helping to create memorable moments for over 100 military families.

TACT participants from USO Houston watch the Texans run through the tunnel onto the field. USO photo

TACT participants from USO Houston watch the Texans run through the tunnel onto the field. USO photo

“It’s a simple thing for me, but I realize it can have an impact,” Watt said. “It’s a way to reach out and help these people and do something nice for them while we’re in season.

“It’s all because of how appreciative I am for what they’ve done for us and what they continue to do and the sacrifices that they make.”

Troops and their families who win TACT program tickets through a USO Houston raffle enjoy an all-inclusive Texans experience, from receiving commemorative Watt TACT T-shirts to getting to watch the players run through the tunnel onto the field.

“Plus, they get a parking pass and they get a hot dog and Coke,” said USO Houston Programs Manager Anna Rzendzian.

Military families that win the USO Houston raffle are also invited to attend a special pregame tailgate where they can create signs thanking Watt for the chance to watch a game at NRG Stadium. Watt says families will sometimes send him photographs of themselves from the game holding up the signs they made.

The view from the USO Houston pre game tailgate. USO photo

The view from the USO Houston pre game tailgate. USO photo

“Just to see those photos and to see moms and dads with their kids at the games is really special and some of the signs they make are really cool,” Watt said. “One of my favorite signs is ‘The Army sent daddy to Iraq, J.J. sent us to this game.’ So, that was pretty cool.”

Beyond the TACT program, the Texans also donate a variety of tickets to be distributed to Houston-area troops and their families through the USO.

According to Rzendzian, these extra tickets, which are donated by season ticket holders through the Texans’ Cheering Children program, can range from 700-level seats to exclusive private suites. However, as Rzendian notes, the most requested tickets by military families are still the TACT seats donated by Watt.

“It’s interesting to see how many people will forgo the club seats because they want tickets that were bought by J.J. Watt. And those tickets are actually in the nosebleed section,” she said. “But they don’t care. Because J.J. Watt bought them those tickets. It’s really hilarious.”

Watt, a 2012 USO tour veteran, hopes that giving military families — especially ones with children — the chance to attend a Texans game will brighten their day.

“Kids who have a parent overseas are going through something that is difficult, you know,” Watt said. “Your parents are overseas fighting for our country, so I feel like if we can put a smile on your face for a few hours on Sunday, I bring them to a game, I think that’s a pretty cool experience.”

USO-NFL Partnership Kept Football Streaming to Troops in Afghanistan During Government Shutdown

Troops gather at USO Kandahar in Afghanistan to watch football, courtesy of NFL Game Pass. USO photos by Daniel Wood

Troops gather at USO Kandahar in Afghanistan to watch football in late September, courtesy of NFL Game Pass. USO photo by Daniel Wood

The recent government shutdown – which ended on Thursday – left troops downrange with a slimmed-down version of the Armed Forces Network, and the prospect of missing their favorite football teams on Sunday nights.

However, NFL Game Pass – which the league offers free of charge to USO centers outside the United States – kept the games streaming for troops at sites like USO Kandahar.

“They really saved the day here,” said Daniel Wood, duty manager at USO Kandahar.

Here’s what troops in Afghanistan told the USO’s Eric Raum on Oct. 6:

  • Spec. Gary Stripling: “I thought we just weren’t going to get to watch the games this week. A buddy told me the USO was still going to show the NFL over an Internet connection so we all came down early to get a seat.”
  • Staff Sgt. Brian Duchsne: “It’s something we look forward to all week, it gets you through, knowing you’ll relax for an evening and watch football, so we were pretty excited to hear the USO was still going to be showing the game.”

Jeep Heroes Caravan

In celebration of their heroism, seven members of the U.S. Military were invited to New Orleans to attend Super Bowl XLVII and to celebrate the launch of the Jeep® Operation SAFE Return Campaign and USO Partnership. The Jeep Heroes Caravan itinerary included local food tours, a visit to the Mardi Gras Museum, lunch with Chef John Besh (a former Marine), a meet and greet with Grammy award winning Hip-Hop band, The Roots and attending the big game.

In addition, the Jeep brand has created the “Tribute for Troops” social media campaign, an effort that encourages citizens to support troops in their communities. Now through Mon. May 27, the Jeep brand will donate $1 for every person who pledges to join the movement and tweets out their efforts using the hash tag #joinOSR.

More information on Operation SAFE Return, can be found at http://www.jeep.com/OSR

USO Brings Food and Football to the Troops

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Pictures from the tailgate and watch party held at the new USO Warrior & Family Center on Fort Belvoir

Last night millions of people got together with their friends and family to eat party food and watch one of the most popular TV events of the year: the Superbowl. But there are still countless troops deployed far away from the comforts of home. That’s where the USO steps in.

At USO centers around the globe, troops got to settle in for food and football and smiling faces! Here is just a sampling of some of the fun:

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Packers Fans Connect Through Pro vs GI Joe

Airmen at USO Qatar approach the camera to say hello to family and friends at the Pro vs GI Joe event at Lambeau Field on Nov. 19, 2011.

In Green Bay, WI, this weekend, the USO and its partners braved the biting cold, working hard to lift spirits of troops and their families. Through the Pro vs GI Joe and Purpose-Driven Rehab programs, deployed troops were connected with their families and their favorite football players while wounded warriors were also reintegrated into their hometown communities.

The air was crisp outside Lambeau Field, and the smell of Curly’s Cheese Curds and bratwurst was in the air as tens of thousands of Green Bay football fans swarmed the Pro vs GI Joe / Purpose-Driven Rehab trailer before the game on Sunday. They came to see their undefeated Green Bay Packers defeat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in week 11 of NFL regular season play, but they got more than they bargained for.

Green-and-gold-clad fans found shelter, warmth, friendship and fun as they stepped into the Purpose-Driven Rehab trailer – most not knowing what to expect. When they entered, they found a warm environment filled with wounded warriors like Marine Corps veteran, retired Cpl. Jeremy Stengel, geared up in Packers garb and sporting a giant, seemingly permanent smile. Stengel is not only a member of the local community, he’s also member of the Packers fan base, so these folks were hardly strangers. Green Bay fans quickly warmed up to him and the other veterans and began chanting “Go Pack Go!” and banging the drum of Packers success as they played video games and told stories of service and sacrifice.

Stengel’s perma-smile wasn’t there when I met him on Friday, however. His elation was directly attached to two key aspects of the weekend. First, he’s at a home game, amongst friends, carrying three-generation-old season tickets. And second, and more importantly, he had the honor of asking the woman he loves to marry him on the 50 yard line of Lambeau Field Saturday. Of course, she said, “Yes,” and he’s been floating on a cloud ever since.

He proposed just after participating in a landmark Pro vs GI Joe event in the atrium of the stadium, where troops at USO Centers in Afghanistan, the Middle East, and Germany were connected to their families, friends, and to four Green Bay Packers who volunteered to compete against the deployed troops in a friendly game of Call of Duty, Modern Warfare 3.

Brenda Gauerke says hello to her husband, Air Force MSgt. Peter Gauerke, with their daughters Emma (left) and Ella, right, at the Pro vs GI Joe event at Lambeau Field Nov. 19, 2011. MSgt. Gauerke is at USO Qatar.

Before the players arrived at the event, the live audio/video connection was made with four centers: Kandahar, Qatar, the Warrior Center in Landstuhl, Germany, and a center in northern Virginia. As local military families from the 128th Air Refueling Wing began to arrive, they each approached the four respective laptops to wave and say hello to their deployed loved ones at USO Centers abroad.

Brenda Gauerke was in tears when she saw her husband, Peter, appear on the screen. Their four-year old daughter, Emma, immediately but cautiously approached the laptop. She reached out with her tiny forefinger to identify a single airman. The moment her finger touched the screen, her blond hair whipped around and her face lit up.

“That’s daddy!” exclaimed Emma. Her mother could only nod and wipe a tear from her eye.

“I’ve had tears in my eyes all day thinking about what this means on all ends,” said Brenda. “For the home town, the Packers, supporting the troops, meeting the undefeated world champions, and all because of the USO and Pro vs GI Joe took the time to make this happen. I’m not sure if you know how much something like this means to us. This is what family is all about. This is what Green Bay is about. Thank you so much for what you do.” – Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer 

Introducing the Military Bowl!

It’s official: Washington, D.C.’s college football bowl game – formerly known as the Eagle Bank Game – has been renamed “The Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman,” and the charitable beneficiary is the USO!

The Bowl is in its third year and will be played Dec. 29, 2010 at RFK Stadium in Washington D.C. This season, the game is scheduled to feature an Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) team vs. a Conference USA opponent. The D.C. Bowl Committee and the Washington Convention and Sports Authority (WCSA) made the announcement yesterday at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center during the Association of the U.S. Army (AUSA) annual meeting.

“Since its inception, the mission of our Bowl Committee team is to support the efforts of our servicemen and servicewomen defending our country both at home and abroad, and to enhance our wonderful Washington, D.C. communities,” said bowl chairman Jeffrey S. Fried.

“The new Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman benefitting the USO, will support the excellent work of that organization, which does so much for our brave men and women in uniform, and their families,” said Wes Bush, CEO and president, Northrop Grumman Corporation.

Check out the video below from Military.com, featuring interviews with DC Mayor Adrian Fenty, Sports Anchor James Brown, and more.  The game will be broadcast live on ESPN at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are on sale at all Ticketmaster locations, Ticketmaster.com or by calling 202-785-BOWL.  We’ll see YOU at the game!