Players take time to say thanks, toss pigskin around and sign autographs

ALIAMANU MILITARY RESERVATION, Hawaii - Football cheerleaders flashed flirtatious smiles and winked at Soldiers and family members during the Pro Bowl Meet and Greet at the fitness center here, Feb. 4.

Team mascots danced with the crowd, high-fived children and performed humorous antics across the stage.

"This is awesome," said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Randy Johnson, 196th Infantry Brigade, holding an autographed football in his hand. "I think it's great that Pro Bowl celebrities take time while they are here to visit with the military.

"There is a lot of energy in this room," added Johnson.

More than 350 Soldiers and family members attended the event, many sporting paraphernalia of their favorite football team.

One by one, family members greeted cheerleaders from participating teams, including Valerie Mikita of the St. Louis Rams and Heather Lanham of the Cincinnati Bengals.

"The girls love to interact with the military," said John Brandt, assistant director for the Pro Bowl cheerleader programs. "They are so appreciative of what these guys do."

Cheerleaders signed footballs, photographs and jerseys, and took photos with fans. Additionally, children had a chance to show off their football skills during the Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation (FMWR) football toss game.

In the game, participants threw footballs to a cardboard cutout of Dallas Cowboys' wide receiver Terrell Owens.

Ahmed Abdullah, 11, held the football tight, thinking intently before throwing the ball. The football left his hand, flew through the air, and narrowly missed the mark.

"So close," said Abdullah, running to the back of the line.

"This is fun," continued the young football fan. "There is so much to do and I love playing football."

Although Abdullah will not be attending the Pro Bowl this year, he said he would watch the game at home and root for "whatever team the Steelers are on."

The meet and greet continued while, simultaneously, tables with information from numerous community organizations covered the gym floor. The FMWR Expo offered information to family members about the many programs available, including Army Community Service, the Arts & Crafts centers, and Child, Youth & School Services (CYS2).

Children entertained themselves in the bouncy house and at the arts and craft table as parents snacked on popcorn and visited representatives of the many community organizations.

"We are constantly challenging ourselves as an organization to (raise) the bar and come up with new and fun interactive ways to reach out to the community and show them our support," said Darlene Marshall, Blue Star Card program coordinator.

"Our decision to combine the Pro Bowl Meet and Greet and the FMWR Expo ... was a direct result of that. Based off the feedback and smiling faces we received from the participants, the combination of the two events was a success," she said.