Service Members Worldwide Gear Up for Super Bowl
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 3, 2012 Excitement is building aboard the Bataan Amphibious Group as sailors prepare to return home from the longest Navy deployment in four decades -- and spend one of their last days at sea enjoying Super Bowl XLVI with their loved ones.
The sailors will join their fellow service members deployed or stationed around the world who will watch the big game live, thanks to a live broadcast provided by the American Forces Network.
American Forces Radio and Television Service, AFN’s “parent organization,” has been delivering the game live -- initially via radio, then beginning in 1982, by TV -- since the first big game was played on Jan. 15, 1967.
This year, the full game, including the pre-game show, will be beamed by satellite to AFN viewers and American Forces Radio listeners in 175 countries and aboard Navy ships at sea, said Larry Sichter, affiliate relations chief for the Defense Media Activity’s AFN Broadcast Center in Riverside, Calif.
So as deployed troops assemble around TVs being set up in dining facilities and morale, welfare and recreation tents and sailors at sea watch from screens in their berthing compartments or mess decks, they’ll participate in an annual tradition as all-American as Thanksgiving and apple pie.
Some will be doing so at non-traditional hours. As the New England Patriots and New York Giants line up at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, for the kickoff at 6:30 p.m. EST Feb. 5, troops in Germany will be cheering them on 30 minutes after midnight on Feb. 6. The game begins for troops in Japan and South Korea at 8:30 a.m. Feb. 6.
For service members deployed to Afghanistan, the kickoff will be 4 a.m. Feb. 6, although that’s not expected to stop them from digging into traditional Super Bowl fare as they watch the game.
The Defense Logistics Agency shipped thousands of pounds of mozzarella cheese sticks, jalapeno poppers, chicken mini bites, chicken wings, pork and beef meatballs, turkey wings, chili, pizza, french fries, onion rings, potato chips and nonalcoholic beer to forces downrange.
AFN will re-air the game twice for those who prefer to wait until local prime time rather than watching the game live, Sichter said.
Regardless of where they’re stationed or deployed, everyone who watches the AFN broadcast will see all Super Bowl festivities, including Carrie Underwood and Steve Tyler’s “little bit country, little bit rock-and-roll” rendition of the national anthem and Madonna’s halftime performance.
What overseas viewers won’t see will be the popular Super Bowl commercials, omitted because of legal requirements that enable AFN to provide its programming at no cost to the Defense Department, officials explained.
Instead, AFRTS taped 36 shout-outs -- including 15 from the Patriots and 12 from the Giants, including quarterbacks Tom Brady and Eli Manning –- to air during these commercial breaks throughout the game, said Paul Waldrop, chief of the AFRTS’ radio and television production office.
“I can’t tell you how much you mean to us and inspire us, and hopefully you’ll be able to watch this game,” Manning said in his recorded message. “I appreciate everything you do for us.”
Brady shared that sentiment, praising America’s armed forces who are “protecting our country and making it the greatest country in the world.”
In addition, messages from Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and nine celebrities will run during the broadcast, with all sending thanks and encouragement to military members, Waldrop said.
Among them will be Ciara, a hit singer who grew up as a soldier’s daughter living at Army posts in the States and Germany. “You guys are so courageous,” she said in her Super Bowl shout-out. “I just want to thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
As Super Bowl fever builds, few service members are as excited as members of the Bataan Amphibious Ready Group.
Crews aboard the group’s ships will be watching the game just two days before their scheduled return home to homeports at Naval Station Norfolk and Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story in Virginia after a 10-and-a-half month deployment. The deployment date was moved ahead to March so the group could support NATO-led operations in Libya.
“Tigers,” family members of the crew, will be ferried aboard both USS Whidbey Island and USS Mesa Verde to enjoy the game and related festivities with their loved ones and feast on pizza, wings and ice cream.
“I believe that this is the perfect way to end what has been an historic deployment,” said Chief Logistics Specialist Errol Daley, one of the Whidbey Island’s tiger cruise coordinators. “The sailors will have a chance to relax and enjoy some down time, and the Tigers will have the opportunity to interact with the crew and enjoy a few hours of much-needed interaction with their family members, who they have missed over the last 10-and-a-half months.”
“We’re excited to give our sailors the opportunity to watch the Super Bowl,” agreed Navy Cmdr. John Pienkowski, the Mesa Verde’s executive officer, with activities being set up for them and their families. “We’ll have satellite TV, ice cream, pizza and popcorn for everyone to enjoy and cheer on their favorite team.”
Navy Ensign Michael Pires made no secret of what team he plans to root for. His parents, whom he described as “huge Giants fans,” will be among “Tigers” coming aboard to “hang out in the hangar bay and watch Eli Manning and the G-Men take it to the house,” he said.
“So it’s great I can spend some time with them after this long deployment and watch our ‘Big Blue Wrecking Crew’ together on the screen,” Pires said.
Regardless of their team allegiances, and whether their favorite teams won or lost, troops overseas have enjoyed live broadcasts of every Super Bowl, initially through short-wave radio broadcasts, Sichter said.
Televised coverage was limited at first to videotape copies of the game distributed after the fact to overseas outlets, unless AFN outlets contracted with commercial networks to get the game live. That all changed in 1982, when AFRTS stood up its satellite network, enabling it to provide live Super Bowl broadcasts to all troops overseas.
“Being able to provide the Super Bowl represents a little touch of home for our military members and their families overseas,” said Melvin Russell, acting director of the Defense Media Activity that oversees AFN.
“It gives them a way to stay connected to what’s happening at home,” he added, “and to remain a part of the American traditions that they’re sacrificing to defend every day.”
(Editor’s note: Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Josue Escobosa, Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Rachael Leslie and Terri Moon Cronk contributed to this article.)