WASHINGTON - The USO is opening its newest center in Afghanistan in early April, bringing to 123 the number of USO centers worldwide. The National Football League donated $250,000 to the USO last year for construction of the center, named in honor of Pat Tillman. A former player with the Arizona Cardinals and an Army Ranger, Tillman was killed during combat operations in Afghanistan in 2004.
Located at Bagram Air Base near Kabul, The Pat Tillman USO Center is the USO's first in Afghanistan and expands USO programs and services in the region, including centers in Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. NFL players Larry Izzo (New England Patriots) and Warrick Dunn (Atlanta Falcons) will officially open the center during "The USO and NFL Salute the Troops Tour," currently underway in the region.
NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue conceived the idea for the center last May while visiting U.S. bases in Germany and initiated talks with the USO. The NFL has a long history of support for the military dating back to the league's inception in the 1920s. During World War II, NFL games were morale boosters and a diversion for a war-weary nation. Nearly 1,000 NFL personnel, from players to coaches to team owners, served in the military during World War II. In 1966, the NFL became the first sports organization to send players to Vietnam on "goodwill tours" to the troops, joining forces with the USO. Since then, active and retired NFL players have participated in numerous USO tours, visiting troops in such locations as Somalia, Bosnia, Kuwait, Iraq, Italy, Korea, Japan, Qatar and Germany.
The Pat Tillman USO Center will serve military personnel stationed at Bagram, as well as thousands of troops transitioning to and from Kuwait, Qatar, Iraq and Europe. The center will offer free Internet and e-mail access, free refreshments, a lounge with a large-screen TV, a game room and a small commissary for service members in transit.