Call it a unique twist of mutual inspiration, as fictional warriors meet real-world counterparts: World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) stars have become a regular fixture at military locations in the U.S. and overseas, boosting morale for all.
Mick Foley is one of WWE’s best-known personalities, and recognized universally for many years as "The Hardcore Legend." Nowadays, Foley is drawn to the high sacrifices paid by many of our nation’s troops through what’s become a monthly visit to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. Twenty visits in twenty months.
"I fully expected my first visit to be my last, but I actually had my spirits lifted. I connected with a lot of soldiers, and I think they felt comfortable with me and the character I played, who was close to my real personality anyway."
Earlier this month, Foley took 11 injured servicemen to the Washington Nationals’ baseball game against the LA Dodgers at RFK Stadium in D.C. "It helps lift everyone’s spirits when someone like Mick comes to visit," Dale Bouck, a 31-year-old army sergeant, told the Washington Times.
"I was a huge wrestling fan growing up," added Cpl. Alex Nicholl, a 23-year-old who was shot seven times while trying to clear a house and save other Marines in fighting in Fallujah, Iraq. His left leg was later amputated. "He [Foley] always puts a smile on everyone’s face.
WWE Stars Make their Mark on Troops in Iraq & Afghanistan
WWE has a long history of supporting America’s troops. WWE Superstars were some of the first celebrities to visit wounded soldiers as they returned from Iraq and Afghanistan. WWE has sent millions of dollars worth of t-shirts, videos and DVDs, promotional items, magazines and CDs to military personnel operating on the front lines.
And for the past two years, WWE SmackDown! Superstars have performed a televised holiday special from Iraq that was broadcast to Americans and troops around the globe. WWE received the Legacy of Hope Award from the USO of Metropolitan Washington for its efforts in support of the troops and to raise funds in support of USO Operation Care Package.
WWE champion John "Bradshaw" Layfield, a 10-year veteran of WWE, has also visited troops regularly at Walter Reed and on tours of military bases both in the United States and abroad. He has noticed many of the troops decorate their tents and rooms with wrestling posters.
And During WWE’s holiday show in Baghdad in 2003, Layfield remembers hearing and seeing eerie reminders that they were performing in a war zone. Several troops were sitting atop tanks so that they could see the action in the ring. He also saw Blackhawk helicopters in the skies around him and heard mortar fire in the distance.
"I remember being in the ring and thinking that this is just an extraordinary, surreal experience," Layfield told ABC News.
Armed Forces Entertainment, which has provided free, live professional entertainment to troops and family members stationed overseas since 1951, organized WWE’s holiday visits. And in partnership with the USO, celebrities ranging from the Harlem Globetrotters to the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders have appeared.
But WWE stars are now one of the most-requested forms of entertainment.
"[2003’s first] show with the troops was such a success," Capt. Josh Anderson, AFE circuit tour manager for Southwest Asia, told ABC News. "The troops just loved it and thanked the wrestlers for coming out to visit them. But vice versa, the wrestlers were thanking them. You could tell the wrestlers loved spending time with the troops and were thanking them for what they do. They [the wrestlers] were amazed at what they [the troops] do every day. There’s been nothing but positive feedback."
WWE and American Forces Network Provide Free Pay Per View
The American Forces Network (AFN) last month aired WWE’s SmackDown!® Pay-Per-View, The Great American Bash, free for broadcast on AFN. It was WWE’s way of thanking the troops and their families for their service to America.
"While our men and women of the Armed Forces are serving throughout the world, we know they are away from their homes and their families, so we are pleased to provide them with a little "piece of home" as a token of our thanks for all they are doing during this challenging time," said Kevin Dunn, Executive Vice President, Television Production at AFN said. "The Armed Forces have shown WWE great support during our base visits and hospital visits so we look at this broadcast as one way we can honor all of them for their bravery and courage."
Image Credit: http://www.mikemooneyham.com/2003/12/28/troops-treated-to-wwe-show/