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.

NFL Coaches Touch Down on a USO Tour to Europe and the Persian Gulf

Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis (back row L), Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy Reid (back row 2nd l) , Minnesota Vikings head coach Brad Childress (3rd r) and Carolina Panthers head coach John Fox (r) pose for a photo with medical staff during a USO tour stop at Landsthul Regional Medical Center in Germany on June 29, 2010. (USO Photo by Fred Greaves)

For the second consecutive year, the NFL deployed four of its most sought-after coaches to Germany and the Persian Gulf to visit troops as part of a week-long USO/Armed Forces Entertainment tour.  Making the journey overseas are 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 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!

Two soldiers brief Carolina Panthers head coach John Fox (standing 2nd l), Minnesota Vikings head coach Brad Childress (standing 2nd r) and Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis (bottom in tank hatch) about the M1 Abrahms tank during a USO tour stop at Baumholder Army Garrison in Germany July 1, 2010. (USO Photo by Fred Greaves)

Carolina Panthers head coach John Fox visits with MP's at Kaiserslautern Air Base in Germany during a USO/Armed Forces Entertainment tour stop on June 30, 2010. (USO Photo Fred Greaves)

Minnesota Vikings head coach Brad Childress gets some help after trading hats with TSgt Tamala Williams, a cook at a dining facility at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, during a USO tour stop on June 30, 2010. (USO Photo by Fred Greaves)

Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis (2nd r) talks with airmen at the 435th Air Mobility Squadron at Ramstein Air Base in Germany on June 30, 2010. (USO Photo by Fred Greaves)

(r-l) Minnesota Vikings head coach Brad Childress, Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy Reid and Carolina Panthers head coach John Fox sign autographs and visit with troops and their families at the USO center in the Ramstein Passenger Terminal at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, June 29, 2010. (USO Photo by Fred Greaves)

Operation Hardwood: Episode 4

In 2006, a group of elite coaches participated in Operation Hardwood II, coaching basketball teams in Kuwait, and participating in combat drills, tank simulations, and visited injured troops in the hospital.

In the fourth and final installment of FOX Sport’s series on Operation Hardwood, host Leeann Tweeden and Maryland head coach Gary Williams take a look back at their time in Kuwait with the USO’s own Operation Hardwood.  And you can still catch up on Episode 1, Episode 2, and Episode 3 any time you want!

more about “Operation Hardwood: Episode 4“, posted with vodpod

Check Out the Video from the 2010 Coaches Tour

(L to R) 2nd Lt. Nick Mercurio, Iowa Graduate Assistant Charlie Bullen, Gunnery Sergeant Will Cuellar, Harvard University head Football Coach Tim Murphy, and wounded warrior Ryan Kules of the Wounded Warrior Project take time out to pose for a group photo during the 2010 USO/Morale Entertainment Coaches Tour. (Morale Entertainment photo by Blake Belcher)

As you no doubt read on the blog last week, the USO/Morale Entertainment 2010 Coaches Tour spent nine days in Germany and Southwest Asia spending time with Troops.  West Point head coach Rich Ellerson, University of Oregon head coach Chip Kelly, Harvard University head coach Tim Murphy, and University of Illinois head coach Ron Zook were each on their first USO tour, and they made this videos along the way.  Enjoy!

Coaches Rich Ellerson, Chip Kelly, Tim Murphy and Ron Zook Lift Spirits on First-Ever USO/Morale Entertainment Tour

Four of today's top college football coaches pose for a group photo outside the USO Warrior Center at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. The coaches are in the region as part of a nine-day, six-country USO/Morale Entertainment tour. (Morale Entertainment Photo by Blake Belcher)

“It’s an honor for me to have the opportunity to spend some time with our young men and women serving overseas, who get up every day and fight for the rights of others. The men and women of our U.S. Armed Forces embody the true spirit of heroism.” -Rich Ellerson, West Point

The USO, in conjunction with Morale Entertainment, recently deployed four top college football coaches overseas as part of a nine-day USO/Armed Forces Entertainment tour to Germany and South West Asia. Making the 15-hour journey to boost morale and bring a touch of home to troops were West Point head coach Rich Ellerson, University of Oregon head coach Chip Kelly, Harvard University head coach Tim Murphy, and University of Illinois head coach Ron Zook.

As Tim Murphy explained, “This was not something I had to think about and I committed to it on the spot. We have two recent Harvard Football players who are at Camp Pendelton (Calif.) as Marine Corp offices awaiting deployment to Afghanistan and it’s the least I can do to show my spport for them and all the brave men and women of our armed forces.”

This is the first USO tour for each coach. During the trip, the group is scheduled to visit six countries in nine days to sign autographs and take photos.  They’ll also be participating in panel discussions and leading flag football competitions with troops. Among some of the places visited so far are, McConnell Air Force Base and the USO Warrior Center at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.

We’d like to thank American Airlines, which provided all domestic and international travel support for each tour participant as part of its office of Veterans and Military Initiatives; and Under Armour (UA), for donating athletic apparel to service members throughout the tour. And, as part of Under Armour’s Freedom initiative, the coaches will guide troops through an official UA Football Combine aboard an aircraft carrier and lead U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force in the 3rd consecutive “UA Dust Bowl” flag football game!

And while the Troops get a chance to kick back with some of today’s best coaches, it’s the coaches themselves who are humbled to take part in their first tour:
“To say that my USO tour has had an impact on me would be an understatement,” said Ron Zook of University of Illinois. “There is something profound about following in the footsteps of our troops and taking part in the activities that shape their everyday lives. I only wish everyone had this opportunity.”

University of Oregon head coach Chip Kelly takes time out to sign autographs for some of his youngest fans as part of his week-long USO/Morale Entertainment tour abroad. This is Murphy's first overseas tour to visit U.S. troops. (Morale Entertainment photo by Blake Belcher)

Harvard University head coach Tim Murphy takes time out to chat with a Wounded Warrior Project representative at the USO Warrior Center at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. In the region to boost troop morale and talk football, Murphy, along with three other college coaches, are scheduled to visit six countries in nine days as part of their first USO/Morale Entertainment tour. (Morale Entertainment Photo by Blake Belcher)

University of Illinois head coach Ron Zook takes time out to sign autographs as part of his week-long USO/Morale Entertainment tour abroad. This is Murphy's first overseas tour to visit U.S. troops. (Morale Entertainment photo by Blake Belcher)

Four of today's top college football coaches mingle with troops during a recent visit to the USO Warrior Center at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. The coaches are in the region as part of a nine-day, six-country USO/Morale Entertainment tour. (Morale Entertainment Photo by Blake Belcher)

Peter King and Paula Deen Have a Ball with Wounded Warriors

Sports Illustrated's Peter King (L) poses with Paula Dean (C) of the Food Channel and a friend at the May 19 National's Game. (USO Photo by Kevin Wensing)

The Washington Nationals pulled out a victory over the New York Mets last night, but the real winners of the evening were the Wounded Warriors in attendance.  Having triumphed over many challenges, the group was able to kick back and relax, with special company from Sports Illustrated’s Peter King and The Food Network’s Paula Deen!

Deputy Secretary of Defense Bill Lynn with SGT Rafael Delgado - a combat medic who was awarded an Army Commendation Medal with valor device and a Combat Field Medical Badge - at the Washington National's game on May 19, 2010. (USO Photo by Kevin Wensing)

Deputy Secretary of Defense Bill Lynch also stopped by.  We’re proud of these wounded warriors and hope they enjoyed a beautiful evening at Nationals Park.  Oh, and the Nats won, too.  Check out a short video below…