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.

The Washington Redskins Welcome Servicemen to Training Camp

SPC Bradshaw is flanked by backs Clinton Portis (L) and Mike Sellers (R). (Photo credit: Pam Chvotkin)

By Brian Anthony Price/Special to the USO

On a miserable, gray Sunday last week, thousands of loyal Skins fans came out for open practice. They were back early Monday morning to watch in the blazing sun. Rain or shine, a sizable number of these fans were men and women from the armed services, who just can never get enough of Redskins football.

One of them, Specialist (SPC) Robert Bradshaw recently returned from a one-year tour in Afghanistan after having completed over 400 missions. Bradshaw came back to his native D.C. on Saturday August 14th. The next day, he was front and center at Redskins training camp: “This is the first thing I wanted to do, see my Redskins up close. Being here is just awesome.”

Turns out, Bradshaw was hoping to meet running back, Clinton Portis. So Zach Bolno, the Redskin’s former Executive Director of Communications, set a plan in motion. As he left the field, Portis was directed to Bradshaw and headed right over: “I hear you just got back from combat. Here, I gotta’ give these to you.” Portis handed the young soldier his workout gloves and sweatbands and signed all 20 of his football cards.

Fullback Mike Sellers was waiting on deck to join them and after the two players posed with Bradshaw for pictures, they thanked him for his service.

Sellers reminisced about growing up the son of an Army man: “My Dad was extremely strict. I always had a curfew, but it helped get me to where I’m at right now. Hard work, perseverance and never quitting: that’s what my Dad taught me.” He added that having a devoted and local fan base of military families and veterans “is a motivation that a lot of other teams don’t have.”

Other teammates agree. Linebacker Rocky McIntosh, whose father is an active service member, visited Elgin Air Force Base [near Valparaiso, Florida] and challenged some of the troops to a fitness contest. “They kicked my butt. From push-ups to sit-ups to pull-ups, they tore me up. I was still in the offseason, but they’re up bright and early training every day. I didn’t stand a chance!”

LB London Fletcher signs autographs for members of the U.S.M.C. (PC: Pam Chvotkin)

Guard Derrick Dockery is another player with family ties: “My father-in- law is a retired colonel and was deployed to Iraq several times. The troops are people near and dear to my heart.”

The Army wasn’t the only branch of the military represented at Redskins camp. The front office invited several active members of the United States Marine Corps out to camp that day. Sgt. Allen Waggoner was one of them. He’s been to Iraq twice and is planning on going back for a third tour. When asked why, his response was simple: “We reenlist. It’s what we do.”

The mutual respect between the Redskins players and the troops is a continual source of inspiration to both.

“They’ll leave [camp today] happy to have met a football player. I’ll leave just as happy having met people who have served,” said veteran linebacker, London Fletcher.

Since joining the Redskins, linebacker Lorenzo Alexander has spent time visiting with wounded soldiers at Walter Reed. “We enjoy going out to Walter Reed every year, giving back, and showing the troops our support. We have a lot of Redskins fans in the military. I love hanging out with them.” He added some thoughts about the team and the upcoming season. “There’s a lot of optimism and there’s a whole new vibe. We know the troops are watching and we want to get some wins for them.”

Shout Outs

Trent Williams, OT: “It takes a real man or woman to stand up and fight for our freedom. Be careful, God bless and come home safe.”

Andre Carter, DE: “Everything the troops do has not been forgotten. Now hurry up and home come safe. We love you and God bless.”

From Maury Povich, who was a special guest at training camp on Monday: “We have it good in this country and the reason for that is what everybody is doing for us overseas in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other places where there are threats. Anybody who is an American understands exactly what their protection means and we’re all so grateful to our troops. I want to thank them dearly.”

Special thank you to Matt Taylor, Zach Bolno, Angela Alsano, the entire Redskins organization and front office and photographer Pam Chvotkin.

Brad Childress Talks USO Tour

(l-r) Carolina Panthers head coach John Fox, Minnesota Viking head coach Brad Childress, Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy Reid and Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis talk with military police (MP's) stationed at Kaiserslautern Air Base during a USO tour stop on June 30, 2010. (USO photo by Fred Greaves)

WCCO’s Mark Rosen sits down with coach Brad Childress to discuss his recent USO tour and – oh yeah – football!  The video is rather small, but to watch the full-size view, please click here

Pro vs. GI Joe Brings Giants and Redskins to Troops in Iraq!

Soldiers play “Guitar Hero” against players at the ESPN Zone in Washington D.C., as part of the “Pro vs. GI Joe” video game competition, June 8, 2010, which pitted troops against Washington Redskins football players. (DoD photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class William Selby)

The ESPN Zone locations in New York City’s Times Square and downtown Washington, DC, were packed with wounded warriors, NFL players, USO staff and volunteers, and gaming enthusiasts of all stripes when Pro vs. GI Joe took the stage for heated competition – all in the name of supporting the Troops.

“Troops spend a lot of their downtime playing video games overseas,” co-founder Addie Zinone told AFPS. “When I told Greg about that, he thought of a way we could kind of give back to the troops [through] playing video games.”

This week’s activities kicked off on Monday, when soldiers from the 3rd Battalion, 85th Infantry, Warrior in Transition Unit at Fort Drum met New York Giants players for a matchup on XBox 360.  Adding to the excitement was the opportunity to play Guitar Hero against Troops stationed in Basra, Iraq.  Miss USA 2010 Rima Fakih stopped by and Tuesday morning the group appeared on CBS’s “The Early Show” to meet Dave Price, the show’s weatherman.

Troops stationed at Basra came to the USO Center there to play wounded warriors and Redskins players halfway around the world. (USO Photo by Richard McCarty)

Later that day, Pro vs. GI Joe packed up and headed to DC, where a group of wounded warriors was set to match up against local USO teams and players from the Washington Redskins, with the winners taking on USO Baghdad.  Jeremy Jarmon – a second-year defensive end for the Washington Redskins – “grew up in a military household where his mother, father, and stepfather had all served in the Army. Jarmon said he loves giving back to servicemembers any way he can.  ‘It means a lot to me to be able to come out here and be able to interact with some of our troops,’ Jarmon told AFPS. ‘Coming from a military family, I know it takes a special type of person to be able to serve over there.'”

In the end, it didn’t really matter who won the matchup, because all those involved had such a great time participating.  We’d like to thank USO Fort Drum, USO of Metropolitan Washington (who’ve posted video on their YouTube Channel), USO Basra, USO Baghdad, the Wounded Warrior Project, Pro vs. GI Joe and all of the active-duty and retired military who took part in these two amazing events.  Way to go – you’re all rockstars in our book!

Miss USA Rima Fakih takes on the drums as soldiers from the Fort Drum Warriors in Transition Unit tackle guitar and vocals at the Pro vs. GI Joe event with the Giants in New York City, June 7, 2010.