By Sgt. 1st Class Shane Klestinski
This past March, Rob “Gronk” Gronkowski, NFL football player for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and four-time Super Bowl champion, sat down and answered questions from members of the Florida National Guard’s 50th Regional Support Group (RSG) and other soldiers deployed to Forward Operating Site Powidz, Poland.
Although Gronkowski couldn’t physically be there to speak to service members in-person, the NFL Super Bowl champion was still able to connect with these troops virtually through the USO MVP Champions series.
Boosting Military Morale Through Virtual USO Events
During the livestream event, Gronkowski answered questions from service members in Saudi Arabia, Greenland, Cuba and Virginia and spoke about his life and sports career. Several other military audiences watched the live Q&A from bases all over the world.
The USO Military Virtual Programming (MVP) series began in 2020 as part of the USO’s Combat COVID-19 Initiative, which aimed to boost morale and keep service members connected to home, even during a global pandemic. The USO MVP series has hosted more than 7,200 livestream events so far, giving approximately 600,000 military service members the opportunity to connect virtually with entertainers, celebrities and athletes. The USO MVP Champions series specifically connected service members with American sports stars via live Q&As and virtual events.
“It was an out-of-this-world experience,” said Spc. Lamar Harris, an intelligence analyst and avid football fan assigned to the 50th RSG. “Being able to hear Gronk’s stories and learn from his experiences isn’t something you can do every day. I hope we get to do more things like this on deployment.”
The 50th RSG, based in Homestead, Florida, is deployed to Poland to support the European Deterrence Initiative as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve by providing management and base operations support at forward operating sites throughout the country.
Gronkowski has participated in previous USO tours and events prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, which include visiting injured combat veterans in Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. He received the USO-Metro Merit Award in March 2019, which is presented in recognition of being “an individual of outstanding creative talent who is dedicated to serving others through volunteerism, particularly for our military.”
“Thank you guys for everything you do, day in and day out,” Gronkowski said as the livestream neared its end.
“A lot of times people call me a hero and all that – I’m not the hero – you guys are the true heroes. You guys are letting us back home do what we love to do because you’re protecting us and giving us the freedom that America deserves.”
- This article was originally published by dvidshub.net. It has been edited for USO.org.
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