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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America’s Away Team

This Sunday is one of the biggest days in all of sports: The Super Bowl. Pitting the New York Giants against the New England Patriots in a near-identical rematch of the 2008 Super Bowl, the fan rivalries are heating up. Surely Tom Brady will be looking for revenge after his perfect season was ended by the Giants in the Super Bowl four years ago. As the nation prepares for the showdown of the season, here’s a look back at the long and proud partnership between the USO and the NFL.

In 1965, then-Commissioner Pete Rozelle was looking for a way to demonstrate the NFL’s support for United States servicemen and women in Vietnam. He conceived the idea of sending NFL players to Vietnam on “goodwill tours” to visit and inspire the troops. After partnering with the USO they became the first sports organization to send a group of players to Vietnam.

From 1966 to 1973, NFL players visited remote firebases, aircraft carriers, and other installations in Vietnam, Guam, Thailand, and Japan. Since then, active and retired NFL players and coaches have lifted the spirits of America’s troops by participating in countless USO tours in places like Somalia, Bosnia, Italy, South Korea, Japan, Germany, Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan.

More recently, since the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan in 2001 and Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, the NFL, with the help of the USO, has sent many players and coaches to the Middle East. Commissioner Roger Goodell became the first sports commissioner to visit troops overseas when he toured Iraq and Afghanistan in 2008 with Osi Umenyiora of the New York Giants.

In 2005, the NFL and USO again teamed up to preserve the legacy of Pat Tillman, a former Arizona Cardinal and Army Ranger killed in action in 2004, by constructing a USO center in his honor. Former New England Patriot and current New York Giants Assistant Special Teams Coach Larry Izzo traveled to Afghanistan to take part in the grand opening of the Pat Tillman USO Center at Bagram Air Base.

No matter who comes out as this weekend’s victor, remember the men and women sporting America’s camouflaged away uniforms. The USO is proud of their long history with the NFL and is grateful for the opportunity to better lift the spirits of America’s troops and families. Who do you think we should send next? - Joseph P. Scannell, USO New Media Intern

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.

USO Baghdad Gets Ready for Some Football!

The staff of USO Baghdad shows their team spirit as they gear up for another great NFL season. (USO photo by Courtney Haueter)

Baghdad, Iraq – For the second season in a row, the NFL has chosen Baghdad USO on Sather Air Base as a location for its NFL Live Package. Guests of USO Baghdad will get the privilege of being able to watch any of the games being played around the league both live and replay. If we have a large contingent of fans from a particular area of the US, we’ll play their home team or we can chose the best match up for the week to watch. Missed the games due to sleep, work or flights? No problem, the NFL Package can replay any game played this year and we can also fast forward to the best parts.

The staff of the USO Baghdad will be wearing NFL jerseys from their hometown favorites and classic players. Duty Manager Frank Stinson is taking bragging rights with his home state Saints while Megan Lynch of Buffalo, NY stands by her Bills. Originally a Los Angeles Native, Richard McCarty wears a throwback LA Rams unit and Robin Symes salutes “Mean” Joe Greene, all-pro Steelers defensive lineman. The 9ers, Dolphins and Jets will be represented by Ernie, David and Ian and we look forward to a lot of trash talking every week.

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.

Coaches USO tour: Day 2

Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy Reid (facing camera l) and Carolina Panthers head coach John Fox (facing camera, r) sign autographs for soldiers during a USO/Armed Forces Entertainment tour stop at Baumholder Army Garrison in Germany July 1, 2010. The coaches, along with Minnesota Vikings head coach Brad Childress and Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis (not pictured) are on their first overseas USO tour visiting troops in Germany and the Persian Gulf over the course of a week. (USO Photo Fred Greaves)

Earlier this summer, four NFL coaches traveled to Germany and the Persian Gulf to spend times with troops as part of a week-long USO/Armed Forces Entertainment tour.  Included on the tour were Minnesota Vikings head coach Brad Childress, Carolina Panthers head coach John Fox, Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis, and Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy Reid.

Coach Fox recently told a Carolina Panthers reporter about the impact the tour had on him: “It was inspiring. They’re amazing, everybody over there from the leadership to the troops. The sacrifice and commitment they make is probably second to none. It was a neat experience.”

Click here to check in as these former and current NFL coaches meeting and greeting troops in Iraq, courtesy of NFL.com!