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Pittsburgh Steeler Hines Ward signs autographs for Tianna Haning, left, and Ashante Johnson, both 6, at the Gateway Gardens’ Youth Center on Monday. As part of his 10-day tour as an Extreme Summer speaker, Ward visited the youth center, the Rhein-Main base exchange and passenger terminal.

Pittsburgh Steeler Hines Ward signs autographs for Tianna Haning, left, and Ashante Johnson, both 6, at the Gateway Gardens’ Youth Center on Monday. As part of his 10-day tour as an Extreme Summer speaker, Ward visited the youth center, the Rhein-Main base exchange and passenger terminal. (Lisa Horn / S&S)

RHEIN-MAIN AIR BASE, Germany — Visiting troops and their families this summer has allowed Pittsburgh Steeler Hines Ward to put his words into action.

Ward is on a 10-day tour of U.S. Air Forces in Europe bases as part of USAFE’s Extreme Summer program. On Monday, the Pittsburgh wide receiver visited Rhein-Main and signed autographs at the base exchange, passenger terminal and Gateway Gardens’ Youth Center.

“To me, it’s a big honor that [Extreme Summer] asked me,” said Ward, 28, a three-time Pro Bowl selection and seven-year vet in the National Football League.

“You always hear athletes [say], ‘We support the troops.’ We wear the flag on our jerseys or our helmets to show our support, but I figured what better way than to go tell the troops and see them up close.”

It was seeing wounded servicemembers at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, however, that really hit home for him.

“This isn’t a game. This is for real,” said Ward, who visited about 12 patients at the hospital Sunday. “It lets you know that war is serious. You sit there and you hear it on CNN all the time — you hear about people getting killed and what not, but you don’t hear about the wounded here.”

Ward also toured the flight line Monday and spoke to a C-17 crew from McChord Air Force Base, Wash. Meeting Ward was a thrill for Capt. James Rowley, pilot and a passionate Steelers fan.

“It’s just nice to see someone that you admire and see that he’s really a nice guy in person,” Rowley said. “I was kind of worried that [meeting him] was going to be kind of let down, but he’s a really awesome guy.”

Air Force Capt. Kimberly Polston-Smith, on her way home from a 99-day deployment to Iraq, said the autograph she got from Ward will be a nice surprise for her husband.

“I don’t really know who he is,” she joked. “But my husband will like this.”

On Wednesday, Ward is to visit Izmir Air Base, Turkey, and will make five more stops before returning to the United States for preseason training later this month.

Following is a list of other stops on his tour. For times and locations, contact USAFE Services:


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