NHL Player Meets, Praises Overseas-deployed Troops
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service
STUTTGART, Germany, Dec. 19, 2012 Matt Hendricks, a member of the National Hockey League who plays for the Washington Capitals, said he “met a lot of tremendous men and women” during this year’s USO holiday tour sponsored by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey.
Matt Hendricks, center stage, a National Hockey League player with the Washington Capitals, speaks to a group of U.S. service members as Washington Nationals starting pitcher Ross Detwiler looks on during a USO holiday tour show at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, Dec. 15, 2012. DOD photo by U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Dempsey, accompanied by his senior enlisted advisor, Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Bryan B. Battaglia, and their spouses brought along a crop of talent -- including Hendricks -- to entertain overseas-deployed troops.
Hendricks shared his thoughts about being invited to take part in this year’s USO holiday tour.
“I know some people that have come over here -- Kellie [Pickler], Toby Keith –- some great people,” he said. “So I was honored to get the invite.”
The Blaine, Minn. native said his father, a former Marine, encouraged him to join the tour.
“I talked to my dad and he just told me, ‘Son, other than raising your kids, this will be the best thing you can do in life. Go over there and kind of boost morale of the troops. Show them that you appreciate them and everything that they’re doing for us back home,’” Hendricks said.
“I took what he said to heart,” the hockey player added.
Hendricks was joined by fellow athletes Ross Detwiler and Craig Stammen of the Washington Nationals Major League Baseball team, comedian Iliza Shlesinger, winner of NBC's Last Comic Standing and country music singer Kellie Pickler.
Sloan D. Gibson, the USO president, and Shane Hudella, of “Defending the Blue Line,” an organization that donates hockey equipment to military families, also traveled on the USO tour.
Hendricks said he has worked with other groups that support the military.
“I haven't had experience with the USO [until now], but I've had experience with a lot of other charities for the military, such as the Wounded Warriors with the Washington Capitals, 'Defending the Blue Line' with Shane Hudella, and then, you meet people along the way, too,” he said.
Hendricks said he enjoys playing at Washington’s Verizon Center in front of the NHL's “best fans” and noted the Washington Capitals do “a great job of supporting the troops.”
And despite a grueling schedule as the USO group strived to meet as many troops as possible, Hendricks said he would happily participate in another USO tour.
“It's been great. Not only the time, the effort, the funding that comes from every individual that works with the USO, but how hard they push us … to see as many troops as we can,” he said.
“And that's what it's all about,” Hendricks added. “We don't want to [get to] the end of the day and say, ‘We could have seen these people. We had [wasted] five hours just sitting there doing nothing.’
“I've met a lot of tremendous men and women,” he continued. “I've got to land on an aircraft carrier, tour an aircraft carrier, fly in a Black Hawk -- a couple of times.”
Hendricks said one of his best experiences on the USO tour was his meeting with a service member stationed at an outpost in southern Afghanistan.
“He had his hockey stick with him for me to sign and he was so happy and excited,” Hendricks recalled. “I didn't know that getting a signed hockey stick could do that for somebody.”