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!

New York Jets Pay Tribute to Our Troops

The American flag is unfurled over the field during the National Anthem. (Photo by Brian Anthony Price)

By Brian Anthony Price

The New York Jets kicked off Monday Night Football with a tough 10-9 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. However, the team scored big with our servicemen and women.

Prior to the game, over 200 troops from all four branches unfurled a massive American flag over the new football field.

It was a proud moment for Jets owner, Woody Johnson: “We’ve got a B-52 bomber flying over the stadium during the National Anthem. We’re extending a flag over the entire field. We’ve invited hundreds of soldiers to be in attendance at the game. We want everybody to know how much we love and support our soldiers.”

Johnson showed his personal support by spending time with the evening’s honorees. DCCS Frank Ferrantelli of the USS New York was among them. “I’m honored to be here as this is my first ever live Jets game. To be welcomed personally by the owner? That’s something I’ll never forget.” Ferrantelli hails from Staten Island and describes himself as life-long, die-hard Jet fan.

Jets owner Woody Johnson with DCCS Ferrantelli. (Photo by Brian Anthony Price)

The feeling is mutual. “Having just honored the anniversary of 9/11 we wanted to do something special,” said  Fullback Tony Richardson, whose father served in Viet Nam and sister is on active duty. “The pre-game ceremony was very emotional and touched a lot of players’ hearts. Honoring our troops puts things in perspective and helps us to appreciate everything we have as Americans.”

Fellow fullback and rookie sensation John “The Terminator” Connor added: “Being part of such a patriotic celebration was a dream come true. I dreamed of growing up and having a chance to honor people who have served. It was a very special moment for me to also honor the fallen of 9/11 as a player in New York.“

The Jets will be saluting the military throughout the season under Johnson’s direction: “We’re at war and everything we do is about our warriors in combat. Our identity, not as athletes, not as Jets, not as people in the NFL, but as Americans, is (reflected in) our troops. We are who we are because our liberties are protected by men and women fighting for us all over the world.”

Special thanks to Robert Mastroddi, Bruce Speight and the entire Jets organization and front office.