LANDSTUHL REGIONAL MEDICAL CENTER, Germany - With his right arm in a sling, Sgt. Steve Webb was still able to pick up arms and engage in battle against airmen, Marines, sailors and fellow Soldiers spread across Dubai, Japan and Kuwait, as well as a few Buccaneers in Florida.
That was the worldwide battlefield on Veteran's Day for Webb and nine fellow wounded warriors from the Medical Transient Detachment at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. While receiving care for medical conditions sustained downrange, the Soldiers were selected to compete in the gaming competition featuring fellow servicemembers and members of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers: quarterback Cato June, tight end Alex Smith and cornerback Phillip Buchanon.
From the comfortable confines of the USO Warrior Center, Webb, a 45-year-old New Jersey Army National Guardsman, gave a good showing against the younger and more battle-hardened veterans of Call of Duty: World at War.
Not too surprisingly, the military scored better on the battlefield portion of the event presented by the non-profit organization PRO VS. GI JOE. Also to be expected, the NFL proved the best when the next round of competition consisted of Madden NFL 09. But for Webb, winning took second seat to just being part of the game.
"It's outstanding, especially to be here away from our units where it's really easy to think that you're forgotten about because you're not with your guys," said Webb.
"But when you're here, everybody makes you definitely feel like you're not forgotten about, especially with the guys from Tampa doing this. It was really nice that they took time out in between their weekend games and play against us."
The "guys from Tampa" saw it differently.
"It's the least I could do," said Smith from the team's state-of-the-art amphitheater where he was able to both see on a live webcam and communicate by headset speaker while competing. "It's just a way to show our appreciation for what they're doing overseas and something as simple as playing video games with them goes a long way. Hopefully they enjoyed it." His teammate concurred.
"It's Veteran's Day. It's a time to pay tribute to the guys that are protecting this country," said June. "For them, it's a time to get off and have a little fun with us. There's really nothing you can say about that. It's a great thing for the families and for the Soldiers."
After the gaming, the USO Warrior Center staff helped stage a surprise video teleconference visit for Spc. Brandon Depew with his wife and five children in an adjacent room in the new 2,400-square-foot USO facility located between the two MTD buildings. Depew sat down expecting to be interviewed by ESPN or one of the local media covering the event in Tampa.
The USO staff worked until midnight the day prior to prepare for the event. The Warrior Center is intended to provide wounded warriors with that special touch of home that the USO is known for among its more than 130 facilities around the world that are used more than 5.3 million times each year by servicemembers and the family members.
"It's their home away from home," said USO Warrior Center manager Melissa Parkins, one of several USO staff members and volunteers coordinating the event from Germany. The gaming room, she said, is probably the closest thing to being at home for the wounded warriors -- or "my kids" as she jokingly calls them -- to unwind and talk as Soldiers can only talk with one another, while receiving medical care at LRMC.
For Webb, sharing the gaming experience with fellow Soldiers on Veteran's Day at the USO Warrior Center proved a winning combination.
"It's really nice if you think about it -- everybody who has served prior, and the young people who are going to serve after us. No matter where you go you have that family, whether you're at Germany, Iraq, Korea or CONUS. Once you're on a military post, you're home."