Coach Childress had this to say about the experience: “Since my son has enlisted in the Marine Corps I have learned a new appreciation for the freedoms we all enjoy and take for granted. Our armed forces are the most highly skilled, best-trained men and women in the world. Their character is on display on a daily basis because they’re an all-volunteer force. We all owe them a debt of gratitude and this trip is a small way of saying thank you.”
Check out our photo essay and get the latest on the tour from the Bengals blog!
In honor of our nation’s “Patriot Six” the New York Giants invited the USO out to training camp to spend time with players, several of whom had personal ties to the armed forces. In fact, head coach Tom Coughlin traveled to the Persian Gulf just last year as part of the inaugural NFL-USO Coaches Tour. Correspondent Brian Price spoke with players who expressed their appreciation for the troops, the meaning of patriotism and their excitement to begin a new NFL season.
Brian Price: When do you feel most patriotic?
Corey Webster, #23, CB: Before the game: the American flags are waving, the National Anthem is being sung and especially when a plane flies over the stadium. It’s a brilliant moment. We share the same colors as our country: red, white and blue, so I also feel patriotic whenever I put on my Giants uniform.
BP: Tell me about this team’s relationship with Lt. Col Gadson.
CW: Lt. Col Greg Gadson is tight with Coach [Mike] Sully. They played football at Army together.
Editor’s Note: Mike Sullivan is currently the Giants’ quarterbacks coach. Coach Sullivan is a graduate of the U.S. Army Airborne, Ranger and Air Assault schools. He was also a defensive back at Army. Lt. Col Gadson was an honorary Giants co-captain during their 2008 run to the Super Bowl.
Gadson’s platoon was attacked and he lost his legs. He’s a tremendous motivational speaker and he was key in inspiring us during our Super Bowl run. Lt. Col Gadson spoke to us about the importance of being team oriented. Have trust in the person next to you and you’ll succeed.
BP: Your team’s play, particularly during the 2008 Super Bowl, inspires thousands of troops.
Eli Manning, #10, QB: That means a lot. We play football for a lot of reasons, but when I hear something like that, about troops staying up late to watch our games on satellite overseas, that is a huge motivational factor. The fact that these guys have so much courage and are cheering for us always makes us want to go out and give them a great show.
I’m proud to be in this country with a chance to play football because of soldiers who, over the course of history have, and continue to, make unimaginable sacrifices.
Thank you for everything. We’re rooting for you. You have the Giants support 100%. We’re grateful for everything you do for this country. Get home soon.
BP: What did you learn from your recent USO trip to Iraq?
Shaun O’ Hara, #60, C: First and foremost, I was struck by the sheer magnitude of our overseas operation. I also got a sense of the troops feelings: they knew they were doing the right thing by being over there. They believed in the job at hand and they were happy to do it. That was really inspiring to witness. It’s what they had trained for and they were all excited to take part.
BP: What was your schedule like?
SO’H: The main goal was to hit as many places and meet as many troops as possible. We got to spend time with General Odierno and attend one of his daily briefings, which was great. We also had dinner with him at one of Saddam’s palaces at Camp Victory in Baghdad. We were on the tour to show our appreciation, but there wasn’t a soldier that we met who wasn’t thanking us. We wanted to reassure them that they were our heroes.
BP: Any surprises?
SO’H: I think it’s important for the American public to know how much we’re helping the Iraqi military. I hadn’t previously realized how hard our troops are working to help them so when our forces leave in 2011, they’ll be able to sustain peace on their own. There are a lot of Iraqi people who embrace our presence and are happy we’re there. We’ve freed them from Saddam Hussein and his reign. They’re a proud country, a proud people and they’re eager for a chance to flourish.
Editor’s Note: O’Hara was joined on the tour by Bears cornerback Charles Tillman.
BP: As a NFL veteran, what’s your advice for young people?
Kareem McKenzie, #67, T: In football, pay as much attention as possible to the older guys who have done it for years. Have a sense of what it takes to be successful. It’s not luck that somebody plays in the league for 10 or 11 years. We’ve worked hard to maintain consistency. Take notice of an older guy’s work ethic. Make a note of how many hours they put into perfecting their craft.
For troops, however, it’s on a totally different level. The mental focus one needs to have to operate in the conditions they do is unbelievable. Wearing body armor in 120-130 degree heat is something that really struck me. You can’t praise them enough.
I’m close with several veterans of various wars and my relationship with them provides a tremendous sense of personal pride. It’s a special thing to know somebody who has served.
On behalf of all NFL players, the support staff, and the entire New York Giants organization, we appreciate everything you do and your dedication to serving this country. We have you in our prayers for a safe return.
BP: Any message for the troops?
Michael Boley, #59, LB: I want to offer a big thank you to our troops. My brother spent seven months over in Afghanistan. Whenever I speak with him he always emphasizes that we shouldn’t take anything for granted. It’s important to appreciate the liberties we as citizens have in this country. What the troops do is more than we ever see on the news.
Chris Canty, #99, DT: Sometimes people can take their freedom for granted, but we always need to be thankful that we have the opportunity to live in America and be free. I’m able to play football because of the dedication of the men and women of the armed forces who protect this country. I understand the dedication and teamwork it takes for us to be successful, but if we fail it’s only wins and losses. If they fail it’s life and death. They’re risking their lives for me and they don’t even know me. You have to have tremendous respect for that kind of dedication.
Dave Tollefson, #71, DE: They inspire me. We’re playing a game every weekend and they’re putting their lives on the line everyday to keep America free and safe so we can sleep at night.
BP: Your brother served this country, right?
DT: My brother, Brett Baatrup, was in the First Tank Battalion at 29 Palms, U.S. Marine Core. He just finished his second tour.
BP: What do you learn from him about the nature of service and combat?
DT: I’ll think I had a rough day at practice and then he’ll tell me about his day: One time his tank treads fell off in the middle of a battle and he had to get out of the tank to put them back on. You want to talk about rough? You want to talk about pressure to perform? Try being responsible for fellow troops lives in a situation like that. That’s not just him. That’s the case for every soldier. I still ask him all the time: “How’d you do it?”
BP: What’s his answer?
DT: “I had to. It’s my job.” Look, I hate making correlations to what we do and what they do. A coach tells me to do something and I do it because I can’t let my team down. It was the same with my brother, obviously magnified a million times over, but it wasn’t about the orders. It was about, as a group, completing a mission and keeping everybody safe.
BP: Did you ever think you’d be doing a job that inspires the bravest people on earth?
David Diehl, #66, T: It’s awesome to be in this position with that in mind. If our play can, at least for a few moments, ease some stress for the troops and help boost morale than that’s what it’s all about for us. I love hearing about troops watching the games overseas and how they organize games against other platoons. As players we get a chance to meet and spend time with the troops and they tell us: “You’re our heroes.” To which we answer right back: “You soldiers are our heroes.”
Many thanks to E. Peter John Baptiste, Pat Hanlon and the entire Giants organization and front office for their assistance with this piece.
Editor’s Note: In addition to supporting the USO and American troops, the Giants are active in many charities and initiatives including finding a cure for Cystic Fibrosis. Find our more at Esiason.org and CFF.org.
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.
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!
By Brian Price, Reporter for SNY
The New York Jets have arguably been the most talked about team this off-season. A 2010 trip to the AFC championship, followed by several big off-season moves, and the opening of a new stadium already has the football world talking about a green Super Bowl. Additionally, HBO will be arriving at Jets training camp to feature the team on “Hard Knocks.” But despite all this attention, when it comes to the troops the Jets have remained grounded and humble. They were all eager to take a moment to offer words of thanks and to share some of their own connections to those serving in combat zones and disaster areas.
Brian Price: You have several family members in service.
Tony Richardson, #49, FB: Growing up in a military family was the best thing that ever happened to me. My father was a Vietnam veteran and lifelong military man. The little things that he taught me have always stuck with me: if I’m going to do something I’m going to give it 100%. Little things like always making my bed each morning strengthened my character and have carried over to my professional life. From a very young age I was always very disciplined.
My father was a model of consistency. Everyday he was up early, never complained, and his uniform was sharp. He was just the same guy everyday and that taught me a lot about doing things over and over again, but always doing them the right way.
My sister is still in service. She’s at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. She’s the same way and now teaching my nephew the same values.
Sometimes people look at us as being heroes but, and I say it all the time, the troops are America’s true heroes. Without them we couldn’t do our job and live our lives. They lay their lives on the line and are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for us. That’s what a true hero is.
Richardson’s father, Sergeant Major Ben Richardson, was a career army man. His sister, Shonn, is a Staff Sergeant in the U.S. Army. She’s in line for a promotion to E.A.
Kris Jenkins, #77, DT: My baby brother is part of the air division in Afghanistan. I’m always thinking about him and anybody else who’s serving. I’m just thankful and grateful and I hope they get home safe.
Whatever my biggest problem is, football related or not, it can’t compare to what he’s going through. He’s over there dodging bullets. They call him Goose, but his name is Chance McDaniel. He’s on his third tour so this will be his last one and we’re praying that he gets home safe.
Bart Scott, #57, LB: My father went to Vietnam, so I understand the pain of families and kids who have a loved one overseas. There’s no phrase or words that can be used to thank them enough. All we can do is say thank you and hope they know how much we’re praying for them and how much we appreciate them.
In sports, some say, “We’re going to war.” No. They’re going to war for real. Young men and women, college students, who have bright futures ahead of them and yet they’re willing to pay the ultimate price.
With the war having gone on for some time now people tend to forget because it’s not in the moment. The fact of the matter is there are still men and women over there continuing to fight and die for us. I just hope we get our troops back safely to their families. I appreciate that they’re willing to make a sacrifice that we could never imagine.
BP: What goes through your mind during the National Anthem?
Mark Sanchez, #6, QB: During warm-ups I’m focused on the game, but it’s during those moments when the anthem is played that I can step away from the game, reflect and appreciate the opportunity to be able to play because of the sacrifices that so many have made.
On behalf of the New York Jets we just want to express our appreciation for our servicemen and women and everything you do for us. We’re with you and thank you for allowing us to have our freedom.
Damien Woody, #67, OT: Hearing the National Anthem is one of the most special moments on game day. Everything that’s happened in history and everything that’s going on today seems to build to that moment. We’re able to play these football games and live out our dreams. We know that while we play a game people are at war. It really makes me emotional in that moment. I’m not just speaking for myself on that. There are a lot of players in this locker room, and many others around in the NFL, who feel the same way.
Trust me, with a lot of family and friends in the service I understand what it takes to do that job. I don’t think I could do it myself. It’s a tough responsibility and it takes a special kind of person to serve. I’m just so appreciative of what they do. I feel privileged to play in the National Football League but a lot of the liberties that I have wouldn’t be possible without the ladies and gentlemen fighting overseas and doing what they do everyday to protect us from foreign combatants.
BP: You’ve spent time with the troops, right?
D’Brickashaw Ferguson, #60, OT: I had a chance to go out to Fort Wainwright in Alaska to speak with men and women of the army. Now I wasn’t on the front but I was on a base. I got a chance to meet not just troops but military families. It was a great opportunity to be face to face with some of the bravest people on earth. I think it was rewarding for them and we went there to show our support but I ended up learning a lot through the experience.
BP: Like what? How was your perspective changed?
DF: There’s still war going on but the news may turn its focus to other things. It’s important to always remain aware that there are still people risking their lives everyday for us whether we hear about it on the news or not.
BP: Do you have some words for our troops?
Calvin Pace, #97, LB: I just want to say thank you. Come home safe. Everybody appreciates what you do by putting your lives on the line, keeping us safe, and keeping us free. God bless.
Ladainian Tomlinson, #21, RB: Look, we’re entertainers that really give the people a chance to enjoy the freedom of watching the game. But from my perspective the troops are the reason we’re able to play this game. What they’re doing is keeping us safe. I maintain my perspective by always keeping an eye on what’s going on with the troops. We’re all so appreciative.
Danny Woodhead, #83, WR: They’re fighting with their lives to defend our country. The troops deserve all the credit they get, and they deserve even more. They can’t be praised enough. We play football and at times it may seem like a big deal but in the grand scheme of things what the troops do is way more important. Thanks for all you do. You make us proud.
Dustin Keller, #81,TE: You sometimes hear an athlete say: “We’re putting our bodies on the line,” or “ we’re going to war.” It’s a game. Our troops put their lives on the line for us. That always has to be appreciated. I have the utmost respect for those in the service.
Shonn Greene, #23, RB: I just appreciate the troops and everything that they do. A lot of people don’t realize how tough it is to be out there. With everybody else back here going about their lives they may not realize it. The troops are greatly appreciated and on behalf of the Jets organization I want to say thank you.
Dwight Lowery, #26, CB: They put their lives on the line for something that’s greater than themselves. We greatly admire and appreciate them. I’m not the type of guy that could go out and do what they do. I have nothing but respect for the troops.
Shaun Ellis, #92, DE: I want to thank the troops for supporting us, having our backs and keeping us safe. God Bless.
David Harris, #52, LB: Their service can’t be measured with words. They put their lives on the line everyday for you and me. We’re all so thankful for the liberties that we have today that the troops provide. Get home safe.
We would like to thank Brian Price of SNY for this post and we’d also like to thank Bruce Speight and the entire Jets front office for their help.
Their tour may have ended, but the great pics keep coming! Check out these amazing images with NFL stars Drew Brees, Billy Miller, and Donnie Edwards. And don’t forget to scroll to the bottom of the post for a video from DVIDS!