Pat Tillman USO Center Opens in Afghanistan
By Sgt. 1st Class Darren D. Heusel, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan, Apr. 5, 2005 With snow-peaked mountains and roaring aircraft engines as a backdrop, several hundred members of the coalition in Afghanistan turned out April 3 for the grand opening of the Pat Tillman USO Center here.
Warrick Dunn of the Atlanta Falcons (front) and Larry Izzo of the New England Patriots toss autographed footballs to members of the coalition in Afghanistan prior to the opening of the Pat Tillman USO Center April 3 at Bagram Air Base. The center is named in honor of former Arizona Cardinals safety Pat Tillman, who was killed in eastern Afghanistan on April 22, 2004. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Darren D. Heusel, USA
(Click photo for screen-resolution image)
The center is named for former Arizona Cardinals safety Pat Tillman, who put his career in the National Football League on hold to join the Army after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States and was later killed in battle in Afghanistan.
Bagram's is the 123rd United Service Organizations center around the world and just the third in Southwest or Central Asia, according to John Hanson, USO senior vice president of marketing and communications.
"We are a partnership between the civilian community and the military," Hanson told the crowd as they gathered around the center's entrance to show support for Tillman and sought autographed footballs whizzing through the air from Warrick Dunn of the Atlanta Falcons and Larry Izzo of the New England Patriots.
"The USO is the way America can support the military, ... which dates (from) before the days of World War II," Hanson said.
The center, located next to the Bagram passenger terminal, features several rooms with large-screen televisions, video game stations and telephones. One of Pat Tillman's jerseys hangs on a wall in the largest room. The center has two floors, indoor plumbing, and a café with drinks and snacks.
Pete Abitante, senior director for international public affairs for the NFL, read a letter from Tillman's widow, Marie, which stated, "Pat was honored to serve beside you, and we are pleased you will see his name every time you enter this facility.
"This facility will make your time away from home a lot easier," Marie wrote in the letter.
The NFL provided most of the funding for the facility, donating $250,000 to the USO for construction of a recreational building for troops serving at and moving through Bagram Air Base.
"I may get a lot of notoriety on television, but you guys are the true heroes," said Dunn, a standout running back who began his career in Tampa Bay and earned the NFL's Walter Payton Man of the Year award for community service last year.
Izzo, who was sporting two huge Super Bowl championship rings and has another on the way, said, "When you played against Pat Tillman, you had to bring your 'A' game. He was a warrior."
The Patriots' special teams captain echoed Dunn's comments, saying, "You guys are the true patriots."
Tillman served in Iraq in 2003 and Afghanistan in 2004. He was killed April 22, 2004, during an ambush set up by insurgents in eastern Afghanistan.
(Army Sgt. 1st Class Darren D. Heusel is assigned to the 105th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.)