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

Striking Back at PTSD

by Kelly Crigger

Soldiers are warriors who don’t always need to be coddled, yet many Post Traumatic Stress Disorder treatment facilities only offer a soft approach to rehabilitation based on group therapy and talking about their experiences. What many of them need is the complete opposite – a tough physical challenge that demands they rekindle their warrior spirit and rise up to meet a challenge.

Sergeant Todd Vance after a Muay Thai workout. (Photo courtesy of Kelly Crigger)

Sergeant Todd Vance has been there. A former Stryker Infantryman, Vance returned from Iraq and had a hard time forgetting about the distasteful moments of his more than 200 combat missions. After rehabilitating himself, he took up the burden of helping others and started a program for veterans based on something he knew a lot about – kickboxing. In particular, Vance is experienced in Muay Thai kickboxing, a physically exhaustive form of fighting that requires mental acuity to remember the combinations and wears the participants out through a grueling training regimen.

“I started the program for a few different reasons,” Vance says. I work at the Veterans Administration, but love to teach martial arts so I wanted to combine the two. I thought to myself, ‘no one has done this yet and martial arts is precisely what saved me, so why couldn’t it help all the other guys getting back?’”

Vance first needed a facility to hold his weekly classes and approached the owners of the Undisputed Boxing Gym in San Diego where he trains, who were more than happy to help. “The class is at an off peak hour so we have the full facilities to ourselves,” Vance says. “The veterans in my class don’t have to pay any fees for my class and get an extreme discount if they want to become full members.”

Vance then got the word out around town by making flyers that he distributed on local college campuses and convinced the Veterans Administration of San Diego to send it out to their email lists. Instantly he had five students and tangible results.

“It gives the guys a reason to get in shape, an education in physical fitness and martial arts, and gives them a safe place to go to blow off steam with people like them,” Vance says. “Too many vets turn to alcohol to cope with the things they did and saw, so this gives them something else.”

Vance’s program, called POW (Pugilistic Offensive Warrior), is similar to the multi-faceted approach of Andrea Lucie’s Marine Corps program at Camp Lejeune. Lucie combines yoga, fitness, and Mixed Martial Arts to help Marines cope with PTSD and has been a leading advocate for taking a harder approach to PTSD.

“Marines don’t want to sit around talking about their feelings,” says Captain Lee Stuckey, one of Lucie’s former students. “They joined to be warriors, so they need something to hit and someone to treat them like men. Also MMA workouts are really tough, so they help us sleep. Without the workouts I have to take medication, which I hate.”

Back in San Diego, Vance’s group is small, but that just affords them focused attention with the same benefits as Lucie’s group on the east coast. It’s Vance’s way of giving back to the troops and helping them find a way through their problems using the same solutions that worked on him.

“One of the students came up to me and thanked me for putting all the effort into the program and doing this,” Vance says. “He said it’s what gets him through the week and he looks forward to it every time. That was very rewarding and inspired me to keep pushing forward.”

Kelly Crigger is a Lieutenant Colonel stationed in Washington, D.C., the author of Title Shot: Into the Shark Tank of Mixed Martial Arts, and a contributor to The Rhino Den. The opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of Kelly Crigger and do not necessarily reflect those of the USO.

“Me and a Friend”: It’s a Homerun for Military Kids

Kelsie Vick, second from left, poses with her friends Josh Braden, Mimi Nsanzimana, and Kyle Thornhill before the start of the Nationals-Mets baseball game at Nationals Stadium in Washington, D.C., July 4, 2010. Kelsie has relocated 10 times with her Army family. (USO photo)

Last Saturday we gave you an exclusive preview of the new program for military kids called “Me and a Friend.”  A collaboration between the Washington Nationals and USO of Metropolitan DC resulted in this unique program, which provided nearly 4,000 free tickets for Sunday’s home game at Nationals Park.  The program was created in consultation with the Department of Defense as a way to say thanks for the sacrifices made by military kids, and will continue throughout the remainder of the baseball season.

Teens, especially, find that heading out to a baseball game with friends can make a big difference in normalizing their experience as a member of a military family.  “A lot of times, teens just can’t find anything to do,” as Josh Braden explained to Lisa Daniel of American Forces Press Service.  “The focus is just on clubs and stuff. So this is a good thing to do to keep kids out of trouble.”  Braden attended the game with his friend Kelsie Vick, a recent graduate of Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, Va., who has relocated 10 times with her Army family.

Didn’t make it out to Sunday’s game?  No problem!  There’s still plenty of time to participate in “Me and a Friend” this summer.  To check ticket availability for the July 11 game against the Giants please use USO-Metro’s TicketLine program.  All tickets must be picked up at the USO office at 228 McNair Road, Bldg 405 Fort Myer, Va., 22211.  And check out more pics below!

Military Kids run the bases as the Rushmore Four cheer them on at the July 4, 2010 Washington Nationals home game against the New York Mets. (USO photo)

Two recipients of the "Me and a Friend" tickets took time out of watching the game to write a Major League thank you note to Washington Nationals players on July 4, 2010. (USO photo)

The Nationals Park billboard gave a special shout out to USO of Metropolitan Washington and all of the military kids, their friends, and their families in attendance at the game. (USO photo)

Washington Nationals and USO Kick Off ‘Me & a Friend’ Program for Kids

By Brian Price

Our nation’s “Patriot Six” culminates this July 4th weekend, but appreciation for our troops and their families will continue throughout the baseball season. The Washington Nationals, in conjunction with the USO of Metropolitan Washington, have started a new program that provides military kids free tickets to Sunday’s game when star pitcher, Stephen Strasburg, takes the mound. The Nationals will provide free tickets to thousands of young fans throughout the rest of the season.

Craig Stammen chats with USO Vice President Kevin Wensing (r).

USO Vice President Kevin Wensing is especially pleased that the Nationals have taken this initiative. “We hope this is just the beginning and that other pro teams take a page out of the Nationals’ book and get involved with military family and friends across the country,”

In anticipation of Sunday’s festivities, Nationals players and their manager, Jim Riggleman, offered their thoughts on the meaning of the holiday and the military families who will be coming out to the ballpark.

BP: What does the “Me & a Friend” Program mean to you?

Jim Riggleman: “I’m so proud of every soldier for defending us. I think what the troops do is the most important thing that anybody can do for his country. Playing baseball pales in comparison to what the troops do. We provide entertainment. However, I’m honored that we can be the first team to get ‘Me and a Friend’ started. For a young person to have a loved one in combat is an unimaginably difficult thing. If baseball can give them a few moments of comfort than that’s more satisfying than anything I can think of. I’m excited for them to come out to the ballpark.”

BP: What’s special about playing in our nation’s capital?

Ryan Zimmerman, 3B, #11: “Washington D.C. is a great patriotic city to live in and play baseball in, especially during July 4th weekend. We play within view of the capital building, which is a special thing. We’re always trying to do things to stay connected to the troops and to show our appreciation. I know the whole club is really excited to kick off the ‘Me and a Friend’ program. Everyday we’re thankful for what our troops do. We live in a great country.”

J.D. Martin, SP, #51: “One of my favorite moments each home game is when we welcome home troops [in the 3rd inning]. They get put up on the jumbo screen and they always receive a standing ovation. It’s great getting a chance to acknowledge them.”

BP: What does this holiday mean to you?

Craig Stammen, SP, #35: “The only reason I’m able to do what I do is because of the troops. For most Americans July 4th means fireworks and barbeques, but it’s like any other day for a soldier in that they’re still risking their lives for the independence that we civilians are celebrating. I appreciate all soldiers and can’t thank them enough.”

(L to R) Nyjer Morgan, Ryan Zimmerman, Josh Willingham, and Adam Dunn observe the National Anthem.

BP: Do you have any friends in the service?

Riggleman: “I just returned a letter to a veteran who was a ball boy for me when I was managing in the minors. He served in the U.S. Marines for 20 years. His first passion in life was serving this country. His second is baseball, so after having served he’s back and I’m trying to help find him a job in baseball.”

Stammen: “My college roommate enlisted in Officer Candidate School about two years ago. After, he spent a year in Afghanistan and now he’s at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. I try to speak with him as often as I can and keep him close to my heart.”

“The thing about him, and really any soldier, is that they’ll never let on to how tough it is in combat. We’ll play on a hot day and the first thing we do after the game is shower. He’s in combat, it’s 40 degrees hotter and he might not be able to shower for days at a time.”

Martin: “A good family friend, Mike Hill, was in Iraq and he was responding to a roadside bomb. He was helping to pick up a wounded soldier on a stretcher when a landmine went off. It killed several troops around him and he was seriously injured. I’m from a small town, so that’s something that everybody heard about. We were just glad he made it out alive.”

Jim Riggleman summed up perfectly: “Our troops provide safety for us and some of them don’t come back. As Americans, that’s something we need to always appreciate especially when we’re celebrating our independence. Freedom’s not free and they’re the ones paying the price.”

The Washington Nationals and the USO of Metropolitan Washington have teamed up to give military kids the opportunity to enjoy a baseball game with their friends through the “Me and a Friend” program, which formally kicks off on July 4 when the Nationals host the New York Mets in Washington, D.C at 1:35 p.m..

Tickets for the July 4th game are available on a first come first serve basis through USO-Metro’s TicketLine program and must be picked up at the USO office at 228 McNair Road Bldg 405 Fort Myer, VA 22211.  Military families can also visit http://www.usometro.org/tickets to check on availability.