Pro vs. GI Joe events, sponsored by USO Qatar, have been boosting troop morale at Camp As Sayliyah since May. The impact is felt throughout the region, given that the USO lounge is located within the only authorized U.S. Central Command rest and recuperation pass program facility in Southwest Asia. Since 2004, almost 200,000 service members have sought respite at the Qatar base.
Regina Wilhite, USO Qatar duty manager, facilitated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Pro vs. GI Joe event at Camp As Sayliyah. Service members played against professional football athletes using two Xbox games: "Guitar Hero Smash Hits," a rock band simulator that groups players into full stage performances; and "Call of Duty 4 Modern Warfare," a first-person shooter that mimics combat in global hot spots.
Wilhite applied network configurations passed on by Greg Zinone, Pro vs. GI Joe co-founder and president. Zinone set up the Buccaneers' team meeting room, across from Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. The team had just played the New York Giants on Sunday. Upon returning to Tampa, players were eager to start their second year interacting with troops overseas online, said a Pro vs. GI Joe official. Web cams at both venues streamed live broadcasts to make face-to-face interaction possible.
U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Walter Simpson, from St. Louis, Mo., watches his wife and two-year-old daughter enter the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' team meeting room, across from Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., via Web cam at Camp As Sayliyah, Qatar, Sept. 29. Army Spc. Jake Livermon, from Powhatan, Va., plays "Call of Duty 4 Modern Warfare," a first-person shooter that mimics combat in global hot spots, online against the Buccaneers football players. In partnership with United Service Organization Qatar, the event was organized by Pro vs. GI Joe, a nonprofit organization that connects professional athletes and celebrities in heated real-time video game competitions with troops overseas.
"It's not every day you get to meet professional football players – and talk trash!" said Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Joseph Holcomb, from Marysville, Calif., enjoying a four-day pass from duty in Iraq. He beat the Buccaneers football players in two "Guitar Hero Smash Hits" game sessions while performing as a vocalist. Holcomb frequently hollered out to Buccaneers cornerback Elbert Mach, linebacker Adam Hayward and quarterback Josh Johnson.
Air Force Capt. Tony Puleo, from Chicago, Ill., supported Holcomb's vocal efforts by playing lead guitar. Puleo heard about the USO-sponsored event after arriving in Qatar, also on pass from Iraq. USO Qatar staff members were searching for service members with family in Tampa. Addie Zinone, Pro vs. GI Joe co-founder and overseas coordinator, was eager to make the experience special for family members by arranging reunions with their deployed loved ones. Puleo's parents, Tampa retirees, participated.
"This is more for them than me," said Puleo, after greeting his mother and father live on the Web cam video feed. "They're worried about me – this helps them know I'm safe."
Air Force Senior Airman Walter Simpson, from St. Louis, Mo., is stationed with his immediate family at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa. He spoke to his wife and two-year-old daughter in between gamming sessions with the football players.
"It was cool playing with my favorite football team," said Army Spc. Jake Livermon, from Powhatan, Va., after struggling through a free-for-all rivalry in "Call of Duty 4 Modern Warfare." USO Qatar had four networked Xbox stations for the battle.
"It's a big relief to get away from Baghdad," said Livermon, on pass from Iraq. "This is the best USO I've ever seen – I've never seen so many coordinated activities. It's safe to say this is the most government-type fun I've ever had!"