Story & Photos By Spc. Eric A. Rutherford
115th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
TIKRIT, Iraq – While the holidays may just be another day in a war zone, this year World Wrestling Entertainment gave a special Christmas gift to the troops by spending three days with them.
Wrestling superstars took their show on the road for the fifth straight year to spend time with Soldiers in remote areas who rarely even get time to watch their favorite wrestlers and divas on television.
From Dec. 5 to Dec. 7, they visited forward operating bases and patrol bases, followed by the performance of a Monday Night Raw show on Contingency Operating Base Speicher. The purpose of the visit was to boost morale and show support for the men and women in uniform serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“The least we can do is come over here and give the small token to bring a little Americana back over here to you just to remind you that everyone back in America loves and supports you,” Said WWE chairman, Vince McMahon. After a 20-hour flight from the states, the group split into four teams to cover a larger area, visiting troops on more than 20 bases in Taji, Tarmiyha, Balad, Tikrit, and Mosul. Superstars from the WWE didn’t just spend time in secured areas signing autographs, but they also got outside the wire into the combat zone to visit troops in small patrol bases, braving the dangers of Iraq to thank troops for their service.
This trip was Superstar Chris Jericho’s first with the WWE, who said that after 17 years traveling all around the world in the wrestling business, this is possibly the best experience he has ever had professionally.
”I didn’t know what to expect, I just knew that I wanted to come,” Jericho said. “After being here and seeing it up close and personal from the Army bases and the further outposts and getting into the unsecured war zone, we got the full meal deal of the Iraqi experience.”
Jericho also said his goal coming here was to see the men and women and thank them for what they are doing, a goal that was accomplished on many levels. The troops were happy to see the Superstars, but not as happy as the Superstars were to see the troops.
Brig. Gen. James Boozer Sr., deputy commanding general of 1st Armored Division, accompanied the Superstars during their tour and said having the WWE was great for the Soldiers.
”I know the WWE are great fans of our Soldiers, but the Soldiers are big fans of the WWE,” Boozer said. “Our Soldiers have heart and they have the backing of the American people and the great fans like the WWE.”
Not all of the superstars were new to the Tribute Tour. Ring announcer Lilian Garcia has been to Afghanistan once, and this was her third trip to Iraq. Garcia, who grew up in a military family, said that making this trip was very meaningful, and being around men and women in uniform was like being home and around family.
“I think it is very important for WWE to come here,” Garcia said. “It is so wonderful to be part of something like this to be supporting the men and women of our military. Without them we wouldn’t have the freedom we have.”
Another Superstar who is already a veteran of the Tribute Tour is wrestler JBL. He was one of the first wrestlers to make a trip to see troops five years ago in Afghanistan and Uzbekistan. He said he thinks the troops understand that the WWE are big fans of them, and they made the trip with no vested interest other than to say thanks. JBL added it was a terrific honor to come to Iraq and to thank the troops in person.
“To see what these guys have to go through, with their finger on the trigger all the time, and this is the way they live,” said JBL. “This is why we are so free in our country, because these guys do this. It is just a remarkable thing. They are Soldiers and they are heroes and they understand that they want to fight the enemy over here rather than fight the enemy back home. Since they do, we get to live a pretty good life.”
During the three day visit, Superstars spent time with troops, posing for photos and signing autographs. They also spent time talking and getting to know the men and women they were here to see, often not being able to eat meals because they gave every opportunity to the troops for one-on-one time, even during chow.
The Superstars also got in the weeds with the troops, riding in UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, sitting in Stryker Armored Vehicles, learning how howitzers work and spent time on the flight line learning about the weapon systems on OH-58D Kiowa helicopters and Black Hawks.
On the second night of the tour, WWE chairman, Vince McMahon, and some of his Superstars visited 1st Armored Division Headquarters here, meeting with Maj. Gen Mark Hertling, commanding general, Multi-National Division-North, and his staff. Hertling took time to give the Superstars plaques and commanders coins.
“What we do when we get these great stars who are supporting us so well, we send them out to every FOB and every patrol base,” Hertling said. “There are not a whole lot of people who understand what we do over here, and they (the Superstars) come over here and see it. They volunteer to do it. We appreciate it and it makes us feel good to see these guys come over here and spend some time with us.”
Hertling expressed his appreciation by saying these are all the tough guys of wrestling, but the very fact they volunteered to come over here and do this raised his enthusiasm for the wrestlers, which he said went up about ten notches.
After receiving his coin and plaque from Hertling, WWE chairman, Vince McMahon said the troops are the real superstars in the real world.
The Tribute to the Troops Tour culminated in the filming of an episode of Monday Night Raw at the bombed out soccer stadium on Contingency Operating Base. This gave the event the appearance of ancient gladiatorial combat. Hundreds of Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen, and civilian contractors packed the stadium for the show, which will air on the USA Network Christmas Eve at 9 p.m. Eastern.
After the show, Superstars took time to sign more autographs and pose with troops for more photos before returning to America. Superstar John Cena said WWE’s trip to Iraq is nothing short of phenomenal. He said it is good to have an entire company spread the word of the people that make freedom happen.
”These guys and gals are my favorite, I love them all,” Cena said. “I want to say thanks for opening your home to us. I will let the people in America know that we are in good hands. You guys not only make me proud but you make every American proud to be an American. This is where freedom happens and I am proud to say I was able to be here today”
Editor's Note: Another great story from our friend Eric!! I have to admit that I was never much interested in the WWE - but, I have seen them go to Iraq and Afghanistan for the past years to bring some entertainment to our troops. I value what they do to make our troops smile. Thank you, WWE !!!!