Carolina Panthers defensive end Mario Addison, Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap, Atlanta Falcons guard Ben Garland, New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram, Minnesota Vikings running back Latavius Murray and former head coach and current ESPN analyst Rex Ryan will visit U.S. troops and their families at military bases in Italy and Germany during a weeklong NFL-USO tour.
Through the NFL's Salute to Service — the league's work to honor, empower and connect service members through football and strategic partnerships — this year's NFL-USO tour will feature unit visits and one-on-one meetings with leadership. The NFL ambassadors will spend time with service members and their families, and distribute USO2GO kits designed to help deployed service members relax and recharge.
"The NFL is proud to work with the USO on another goodwill tour, providing players, coaches and executives the chance to show their appreciation for service members and have the unique experience of engaging with our nation's heroes in person," said NFL Senior Vice President of Social Responsibility Anna Isaacson. "The league's connection to the military is longstanding, due in large part to a strong partnership with the USO. The NFL remains committed to giving back to the brave individuals who fight for our safety every day and honoring them for their service and sacrifice."
For more than 50 years, the NFL and USO have worked together to support the military and strengthen service members by connecting them to family, home and country throughout their service to the nation. In 1966, the NFL became the first sports organization to send players on a USO tour to Vietnam and other parts of the Far East. Since then, more than 250 NFL players, coaches and executives, including Terry Bradshaw, Bill Cowher, Larry Fitzgerald, Franco Harris, Lynn Swann and J.J. Watt, have visited troops in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Iraq, Japan, Kuwait, Somalia and South Korea. In 2008, Commissioner Roger Goodell became the first sports commissioner to visit the troops overseas when he visited Iraq and Afghanistan.
"The USO and NFL have teamed up for more than 50 years as a Force Behind the ForcesSM to connect service members and their families to the things they hold dear," said CEO and President of the USO, J.D. Crouch II. "This tour is one of many ways we work together to salute America's men and women in uniform by bringing them a taste of home and the thanks of a grateful nation for all they do to protect and defend our freedoms."
The NFL has supported several different USO projects through Salute to Service and, in 2016, announced a $5M commitment over three years to support the expansion and refurbishment of USO centers and programming.