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Jason Baker Football Camp (Photo courtesy: John Martin)
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NFL Punter Jason Baker, Air National Guard, USO Indiana Combine Football, Community Service for Kids

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

By Christian Pelusi 

Professional football punter Jason Baker grew up as an Indiana kid and even though his kicking abilities have taken him to six NFL teams, his roots continue to keep him grounded in Fort Wayne.

For his annual football camp, Baker and the 122nd Fighter Wing from the Air National Guard base in Fort Wayne found the perfect way to observe national Armed Forces Day last Saturday. As part of their three-day camp, Baker and the troops welcomed approximately 250 kids onto the base to participate in a “servant leadership project,” coordinated through USO Indiana.

For the project, the kids from grades six through eight helped stuff care packages for deployed troops, met with World War II veterans and composed letters to other WWII vets that will be included as part of the Honor Flight program that USO Indiana and other USO Centers assist with across the country. The students also enjoyed leadership training from the servicemen and women including military familiarization and flag etiquette in preparation for Memorial and Flag Days.

By taking part in the community service project, kids attend the camp for free.

“It was a really cool experience [for the kids],” Baker said. “I think the most important thing was that there are a wide range of tasks that they do [in the military] and that it’s not just shooting at the enemy. I know that [the troops] were motivated to show their community involvement.”

For the men and women from the 122nd Fighter Wing, the event was anticipated on several levels.

“[I] can't say enough about all the good stuff that will happen and we're just excited that they chose us,” said public affairs superintendent Master Sgt. Darin L. Hubble prior to the event. “The opportunity to serve is a real driver for us here, to put away any stigmas or ideas that they may have … to remove any apprehensions that they may have toward the military in the community.”

The base’s excitement at their inclusion showed. The drill sergeants prodded and encouraged the kids during physical fitness exercises. A Black Hawk helicopter swooped in to drop off two generals and cooled off the kids with a gale-force “prop wash” upon their exit. Helmets, uniforms and equipment were laid out for students to try on and pose for photos.

But some of the best moments for all came from the community service time facilitated by USO Indiana.

"Whatever they do, they do it in such a big way that the impact can't go unseen. We couldn't be happier," Master Sgt. Hubble said. "It's so appreciated. Sometimes we don't know how good we got it."

“The USO people did a great job,” Baker said. “They greeted them and said ‘This is the USO and this is what we do and we need your help.’ And it didn’t seem like the kids were doing the bare minimum. They all really embraced it and at the end of the day [the USO] had a wall full of boxes.

“I know the kids enjoyed it and we’ve planted some memories that they’ll have for a long time.”

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Video: Watch video from the event, courtesy of WANE.com in Fort Wayne, Ind. 

250 middle school kids spend Saturday with 122nd Fighter Wing as part of football camp: wane.com 

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* Learn more about the USO's Honor, Salute and Celebrate campaign.

* Help the USO remember those who served and sacrificed by supporting our troops and their families with a tax-deductible donation. Donate today. 

Photo caption: Top, football campers watch a WWII veteran salute during base activities; Jason Baker poses with one of the troops. (Photo courtesy of John Martin) 

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