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 

Pro vs. GI Joe Draws Crowd at ‘Call of Duty XP’

On Sept. 2-3, at the airfield where Howard Hughes once built the “Spruce Goose” H-4 Hercules prototype in Playa Vista, Calif., thousands of shoot ‘em up video gamers from around the world joined for what they were told would be the ultimate military gaming experience.

Russell Westbrook congratulates his U.S. Marine teammates after a successful match against forward-deployed troops at USO Centers in Afghanistan. USO photo by Joseph Andrew Lee

Activision’s inaugural “Call of Duty XP” lived up to the hype, and Pro vs. GI Joe was at the heart of the exclusive action with live match-ups on stage each day between troops at USO Centers in Afghanistan and pro/am teams of military and NBA players here at home.

In 2008, the USO partnered with Pro vs. GI Joe to provide deployed troops with once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to go head-to-head against their favorite professional athletes on the Internet.

Troops play in USO Centers all over the world while the professional athletes play in front of fans, friends, and sometimes even the troops’ family and friends in the U.S.

On day one, Kevin Garnett of the Boston Celtics and his team of troops took on a team led by Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“Before Black Ops I was a big SOCOM guy,” said Garnett, meaning he used to play the series SOCOM: U.S. Navy Seals, for Playstation 2. “Of course I’m competitive and I want to win, but being able to play against guys in Afghanistan is just incredible. Even if I lose I still win.”

On day two the team led by Kevin Love of the Minnesota Timberwolves brought death upon the Chris Bosh-led squad.

“I think he hustled me,” said Bosh after the game. “I asked him if he was any good and I think he lied when he said he just dabbled.”

“I go hard,” responded Love. “I go hard in the paint! Really, I used to play Call of Duty all the time, but it’s been a while,” said Love. “It’s not like riding a bike. I’ve been practicing for three weeks so I could bring my ‘A’ game.”

While the Pro vs. GI Joe event went on inside one of two enormous hangars, outside, a popular Call of Duty map was re-created for a paintball battle-royale; a zip line stretched above a recreated fictional but operational “Burger Town” from the game; and Jeep, Inc. even showed up with stunt drivers, pyrotechnics and a team of U.S. Navy SEALs to take fans through a heart pounding off-road obstacle course.

Activision definitely went “hard in the paint” this weekend at Call of Duty XP, and they deserve a big round of applause for a successful event, for giving out tickets to 80 active duty troops, and for sponsoring the Pro vs. GI Joe program. – Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer

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Pro vs. GI Joe Hits E3 Expo

E3 ExpoPro vs. GI Joe pulls into the E3 Expo in Los Angeles today. Literally.

The group is using the annual video game conference at the Los Angeles Convention Center to show off its tricked-out 40-foot trailer (click for photos) that houses seven HD TVs, gaming systems and more to allow gamers and troops to go head-to-head virtually.

The Pro vs. GI Joe crew will be hosting gaming tournaments and connecting with deployed service men and women from USO Centers in Iraq and Afghanistan for online gaming from Tuesday, June 7 to Thursday, June 9.

For those going to E3, (which stands for Electronic Entertainment Expo), find the map at the bottom of the linked page to visit the trailer, watch all the action and maybe get to wish our troops well. — Christian Pelusi, USO

Rehabbing with the Troops: Wounded Warrior Arena Wraps Season 1!

Season 1 of the 10-week rehabilitation program culminated with the final workout and a trip to the New Orleans Saints’ preseason home opening game at the Louisiana Superdome, where the warriors were honored with an on-field tribute from the Saints prior to the game and had the opportunity to meet Saints players after watching the pre-game warm-up. (Photo courtesy RWTT Facebook page)

A few months back we introduced to you Rehabbing with the Troops: Wounded Warrior Arena, a groundbreaking program from our friends at Pro vs. GI Joe.  The goal of RWTT is to create a virtual community, called the Wounded Warrior Arena, in which warriors find common ground and build mutual understanding as they improve both their physical rehabilitation and emotional well-being.

But if you think this is just another day in front of the TV, think again! Professional athletes serve as “trainers” for intense workouts on Wii; Season 1′s pro trainers are the Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints.  This year’s first Season ran from June 10th to August 21st, with each warrior being required to complete a minimum of two workouts per week for 10 weeks.  You catch watch a video below that show a recap of the last workout!

Twenty-one wounded warriors—including Army veteran J. R. Martinez, actor in Emmy-Award-winning drama “All My Children”—gathered at the New Orleans Marriott on August 21 to perform the last workout of Rehabbing with the Troops’ inaugural season. (Photo courtesy of RWTT Facebook page)

“I get up every day, and Rehabbing with the Troops is my job,” said wounded warrior and Air Force veteran Wayne “Tom” Marcum, in a tearful description of how the program has affected his life. “It’s given me a chance to rebuild my life, learn how to communicate again with my wife and sons, and become friends with warriors who face the same struggles that I do.”

Even though Season 1 has ended, that community of support will continue for many of the participants, including Marcum, who will return as a coach for Season Two, which launches on Veteran’s Day.  This time the warriors will match up with the San Diego Chargers and Washington Redskins.  We’ll follow along and bring you the exciting conclusion at the Armed Forces Bowl on December 30!

Pro vs. GI Joe created Rehabbing with the Troops in partnership with the Wounded Warrior Project and the USO; RWTT is sponsored by Armed Forces Insurance.

Rehabbing with the Troops: The Wounded Warrior Arena

A message from Addie and Greg Zinone, Co-founders of Pro vs. GI Joe:

In partnership with the Wounded Warrior Project and the USO, and sponsored by Armed Forces Insurance, Pro vs. GI Joe created Rehabbing with the Troops using our concept of connecting pros and troops through video games. But instead of playing Guitar Hero and/or Call of Duty, we’re focusing solely on wounded warriors and fun, yet intense workouts on the Wii console with professional athletes acting as our warriors’ ‘trainers’. Season 1’s pro trainers are the Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints.

RWTT’s goal is simple: to create a virtual community, called the Wounded Warrior Arena, in which our warriors can find common ground and a mutual understanding while simultaneously working on both their physical rehabilitation and emotional well-being. The workouts are designed to not only improve their overall physical health but to also provide an environment where they’re surrounded by troops from all branches of service, from all over the country, who have experienced or are experiencing the same things. Despite suffering PTSD, traumatic brain injury (TBI), amputations and more, our warriors are excited about their involvement in RWTT and are looking forward to this journey.

“I just want to say that I am very happy to be able to participate in this Rehabbing With The Troops Season 1 program, I have gotten so motivated about this that my wife is happy. I was told by her that this is the most motivation she has gotten out of me in 6 years,” participant Felix Garcia had to say about his RWTT experience.

The wounded warriors are ready to go at the RWTT kick-off with the New Orleans Saints!

RWTT Season 1 officially launched June 10th with a big kickoff event at the Wounded Warrior Project headquarters in Jacksonville, Florida. Connected via live webcam feed, several New Orleans Saints worked out simultaneously from their training facility in Louisiana. There was a lot of trash talking and joking around, but both the troops and the pros worked up a good sweat and had a great time.

We encourage others to get involved and follow the warriors’ progress on the Wounded Warrior Arena as well as their Facebook and Twitter pages. Each warrior will continually upload pictures, videos, blogs and workout results. You are also welcome to take the Warrior Challenge and experience RWTT for yourselves! The more fans and supporters our warriors have, the better it is for their recovery and rehabilitation efforts.

As always, thank you for supporting Pro vs. GI Joe as we continue to “do a little for those who do a lot”.

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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.