By Barry Morris
For more than 50 years, the NFL has supported the USO in a variety of ways.
From sending NFL players and coaches on USO tours around the world, to the NFL’s Salute to Service games each year, the NFL is committed to working with the USO to honor, empower and connect service members and their families. The NFL, along with USAA, created the Salute to Service platform to authentically honor and appreciate our military, veterans and their families. Each season, USAA, Official NFL Salute to Service partner, creates memorable NFL experiences that bring our nation’s military closer to a game they love.
Through the Salute to Service initiative, the NFL has made a multi-year commitment to support USO programming and entertainment, as well as help the nonprofit provide a home away from home through the lens of football. This partnership allows the USO to reach more service members and military families, ensuring they stay connected to the grateful nation they chose to defend.
Most recently, the NFL – in partnership with USAA, the USO and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers – surprised a military family living in the Tampa Bay area with a private tour of Raymond James Stadium, complete with a meet-and-greet with the family’s favorite NFL player, Rob Gronkowski.
Having been deployed on numerous combat missions away from his family, Army Master Sgt. Richard Jasen, who is currently stationed at MacDill Air Force Base, noted that the stadium visit and meet-and-greet was a much-welcomed break for the Jasen family.
“The opportunities the USO provides to families like this one here for us today are special because we spend so much time apart from each other,” the Jasen family said.
When the Jasen family headed to the home of the 2003 and 2021 Super Bowl Champions, they were greeted by USO and USAA staff members before receiving Buccaneers T-shirts and other team souvenirs to enjoy during their visit.
Following the stadium tour, unbeknownst to the Jasen family, Gronkowski kicked off the meet-and-greet by photo-bombing a family snapshot in front of the Buccaneers pirate ship.
“I was impressed with the warmth and professionalism of everyone there. It was such a surreal experience. It felt like the Bucs stadium was opened up to be our home and everyone was so inviting and kind,” Jasen said. “We were even more amazed when Rob Gronkowski joined us to share the experience.”
Gronkowski, a long-time supporter of the USO, was equally excited to meet the family and spend time with them at the stadium.
“Today was a wonderful opportunity to surprise and meet Master Sgt. Jasen, his wife and their three wonderful children,” Gronkowski said. “The men and women who serve our country inspire me big time, and I am thankful for all they do to protect our freedoms.”
During the visit, Gronkowski took the family aboard the Buccaneers pirate ship and presented them with an autographed football.
“This is amazing, what a once in a lifetime opportunity, you totally made our year,” the Jasen family said.
The Jasen family’s meet-and-greet also provided Gronkowski with inspiration for the upcoming design he will sport as part of NFL’s ‘My Cause My Cleats.’ As part of the initiative, players have the opportunity to pick causes that are important to them and represent their chosen organizations on custom designed cleats.
This year, Gronkowski will be representing two organizations on his cleats that are important to him, the USO and his own foundation, the Gronk Nation Youth Foundation dedicated to inspiring youth to reach their maximum potential through sports, education, community and fitness.
“I am honored to have the Jasen family along with the USO and Gronk Nation Youth Foundation serve as the inspiration for my cleats this year,” Gronkowski said.
“We are absolutely speechless and touched that our family’s story resonates with others and will be shared by the NFL and Gronkowski as part of this initiative, what an incredible experience this has been,” the Jasen family said.
When asked what he would share with others about the USO, Gronkowski had this to say:
“The USO is a great organization that truly helps out military families, and our military deserve our support as they protect our country and freedoms.”
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