Kosovo Force Watches Fighting, Shooting – NHL Style
By Tech. Sgt. Jason Smith, USAF
Special to American Forces Press Service
PRISTINA, Kosovo, Dec. 12, 2007 Just after the Dec. 10 deadline for the conclusion of negotiating the status of Kosovo, servicemembers assigned to NATO’s Kosovo Force sat back in their chairs and enjoyed the fighting and shooting.
Servicemembers gathered at Camp Film City’s Morale, Welfare and Recreation Center in Kosovo on Dec. 12, 2007, to watch a live National Hockey League telecast on the American Forces Network that featured their pictures. Versus, the U.S. cable home of the NHL, arranged to show the servicemembers’ pictures during the game after network officials heard they’d gathered to watch a previous broadcast. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Jason Smith, USAF
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The fighting was actually thousands of miles away, where hockey players were throwing punches and shooting pucks during the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers hockey broadcast on Versus, the national cable home of the National Hockey League.
During this critical period in Kosovo’s history, pictures of American soldiers, airmen and sailors deployed to camps Film City and Bondsteel, Kosovo, were shown to a national television audience in the United States.
At the same time the troops’ family members were watching the game at home, about 35 servicemembers gathered at Camp Film City’s Morale, Welfare and Recreation Center at 1 a.m. Dec. 12 to watch the live broadcast on the American Forces Network.
When the first pictures of KFOR members appeared on the screen, the troops erupted with cheers and clapping. The sporting, yet relaxed, atmosphere gave some soldiers the chance to unwind for a little while and forget about the stress of the deployment.
“I e-mailed everyone I know,” said Army Lt. Col. Elaine Berkowitz. “I’m from Pittsburgh, and I came to see my Penguins win. I think this is a fabulous event, and it’s great for camaraderie.”
The idea for the game came about when a small group of troops gathered for the Oct. 24 game between the Penguins and New York Rangers. A story was written about the game and sent to Versus. Eventually, Michael Baker, coordinating producer of the National Hockey League on Versus, received an e-mail with the story. Baker contacted the author of the story to thank the troops for watching the game. Through e-mails, they worked together to put on the Dec. 11 show.
“My mom and dad in Michigan are watching,” said Army Spc. Graham Besonen. “It’s important for them to see me and know I’m safe. I’m really a Red Wings fan, but I came to enjoy a hockey game and for my family to see me.”
Most of the pictures were sent to Versus at least a week prior to the game. However, the network wanted to make sure all of the troops were recognized. Just prior to the start of the game, a group photo was taken and e-mailed to Baker. During the third period, the picture was shown on TV.
“I was really impressed with Versus and the NHL putting our pictures on during the game,” said Army Sgt. Rich Allen. “I’ve always been a hockey fan, and to be deployed and see myself on television during a game was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
The game ended with the Flyers dominating the Penguins, 8-2. This was disappointing for Penguins fans in the crowd, but being recognized at home was the most important thing for most of the people involved.
In addition to American troops, a few other NATO and Partnership for Peace troops were on hand at the MWR Center to cheer for their favorite team. Camp Film City, which serves as the Kosovo Force Headquarters, is a deployed home to troops of 34 nations.
(Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jason Smith is assigned to Kosovo Force Public Affairs.)