Soldiers take on NFLers in virtual Veterans Day battles
LANDSTUHL, Germany — Clear your mind of the clichéd image of old soldiers sharing beers, tears and war stories at the local Veterans of Foreign Wars hall.
Veterans Day for about 15 outpatients at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center involved soldiers shooting each other and stabbing — repeatedly — National Football League players.
The combat took place Tuesday evening in the virtual world of video games as U.S. troops around the world faced off against players with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
With headsets to talk to the football players in Tampa, Fla., the troops exchanged lively banter during the game play. Tampa Bay linebacker Cato June learned the hard way not to mouth off to a soldier before playing a first-person shooter game.
"I got to stab a couple NFL players," said Army Spc. Brian Sechrist, 25, an outpatient who was playing "Call of Duty." "It was pretty cool. I stabbed him six times in a row. He was talking a lot of smack before we started playing."
The competition, which had troops in Germany, Japan, Kuwait and Dubai playing "Call of Duty 4 and 5" and "Madden NFL 09" against the football players, was a Veterans Day event coordinated by the United Service Organizations and Pro vs. GI Joe.
Pro vs. GI Joe is a nonprofit organization that sets up real-time video game competitions between professional athletes and U.S. troops. It marked the first time the groups conducted a worldwide gaming event, spanning three continents.
In Germany, troops played on Xbox 360s at the new USO Warrior Center on Landstuhl, rotating to ensure everyone who wanted to play could participate.
A Webcam allowed the soldiers at Landstuhl to see and hear what was going on with the football players and organizers inside the Bucs’ Raymond James Stadium. As an event organizer in Tampa made introductions, the soldiers at Landstuhl clutched their game controllers and joked around, waiting eagerly to play "Call of Duty."
"Battle positions," one soldier yelled.
"Get your gear on and get to your truck," another shouted.
"I shoulda brought my Kevlar," a soldier quipped.
Once the game began, the soldiers got serious, talking only to relay enemy positions.
Army Sgt. Kerry Whitaker played alongside June in a "Call of Duty" battle. The soldier and football player talked tactics over their headsets, Whitaker said.
"He seemed down to earth and not like he’s making more money than me," the 23-year-old soldier said. "I’d do it again — even though he is an ex-(Indianapolis) Colt, and he beat my (Tennessee) Titans a few times."
Sgt. Steve Webb played "Call of Duty" despite having his right arm confined to a sling.
"Look at the one-armed killer," Spc. Brandon Depew said, talking about Webb’s prowess on the virtual battlefield. "He’s tearing ’em up. That’s a warrior right there, a one-armed bandit."
Although injured and apart from his unit, Webb didn’t lose sight of the fact that he was surrounded by fellow soldiers on Veterans Day.
"You think about everybody who’s served prior and the young people going to serve," he said. "It’s a big family. No matter where you go you’ve got that family."