Vincent Jackson's first lengthy trip after the 2012 NFL season was to Hawaii, where he was among the players honored as the league's best at the Pro Bowl in February. Just a few weeks later, Jackson embarked on another journey, this one even farther from home and designed to bring recognition and support to a different group of heroes.
Jackson, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver, recently returned to the States after taking part in a star-studded USO tour that brought a taste of home to U.S. troops stationed overseas. Since the tour was led by the country's second highest-ranked military officer – Admiral James A. Winnefeld Jr. – the exact itinerary was kept confidential, but the tour stopped in six countries in Europe and the Middle East, as well as one ship at sea, the USS Stennis.
Jackson and Admiral Winnefeld were also accompanied by Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, wide receiver Austin Collie, retired MLB pitcher Curt Schilling, two members of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders and a pair of former American Idol contestants, Diana DeGarmo and Ace Young. Jackson, whose community outreach efforts focus mainly on supporting the military, was thrilled by the opportunity to personally thank nearly seven thousand troops and their families for their service.
"What a privilege it is to join the USO in supporting our brave men and women deployed thousands of miles away from home," said Jackson. "Their courage and commitment make the American way possible. I want to personally thank Admiral Winnefeld for inviting me on this journey and I salute the USO for their efforts to bring home away from home to our troops."
Jackson and his fellow athletes and entertainers were privileged to be on the tour with Admiral Winnefeld, who serves as the ninth Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Winnefeld's unit commands at sea included Fighter Squadron 211, USS Cleveland (LPD 7) and USS Enterprise (CVN 65). Most recently he served as the Commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and U.S. Northern Command (USNORTHCOM).
Winnefeld, knowing that U.S. troops stationed overseas appreciate the welcome distractions provided by USO tour visits, believed the visits were uplifting for his fellow travelers as well.
"I'm grateful for the chance as Vice Chairman to partner with the USO and bring an amazing group of talented people to visit our troops abroad," he said. "This is a great opportunity for these celebrities to see America's sons and daughters in action and to personally thank them for their service."
Vincent Jackson is not the only Buccaneer who will be uplifting U.S. troops this year on a USO tour. Later this offseason (again, specific itineraries are not released for security reasons), two-time Pro Bowl guard Davin Joseph will embark on his own tour along with a cast of well-known fellow NFL stars. Joseph's group will include Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, Cleveland Browns linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith and the Denver Broncos duo of cornerback Champ Bailey and linebacker Von Miller. While overseas, Joseph will be providing daily updates on his trip to Buccaneers.com.
The USO, which brings support, comfort and entertainment to millions of U.S. troops, is a private, non-profit organization, not a government agency. To learn more about the USO, its programs and the role of volunteers, please visit USO.org. And to learn more about how you can support Jackson's efforts to help military families, click here.