In the spirit of the late great comedian Bob Hope, the superstars and divas of WWE brought holiday cheer to the brave men and women serving the United States with its annual Tribute to the Troops.
Through the last decade, the entertainment juggernaut, in partnership with Armed Forces Entertainment, took this show of appreciation to the U.S. soldiers stationed from warzones in Iraq and Afghanistan to those stationed domestically.
The milestone 10th spectacular comes from the Norfolk Scope in Norfolk, Va. and Naval Station Norfolk, the crown jewel of the United States Navy. They welcomed members of the WWE roster for a weekend with sailors and their families in the Norfolk and Hampton Roads area, culminating with the “WWE Tribute to the Troops” event. It was the first time the show was taped at a U.S. Navy installation.
For superstars like John Cena, who has been part of nine of the 10, “WWE Tribute to the Troops” is bigger than WrestleMania and the company’s most important show of the year.
“The reoccurring theme you see regardless of where you go...all the troops really want to say thank you to us, and to me that’s backwards,” Cena said during a conference call to promote the event to air as a two-hour special 9 p.m. EST Wednesday, Dec. 19 on USA Network and 9 p.m. EST Saturday, Dec. 22 on NBC as a one-hour special.
“We’re there to 1, let them know that we completely support them, and we want to say thank you, and 2, to give them a weekend of basic downtime. They get to meet and greet us over the weekend, but at the very final day we actually set up and perform for them.
“So the whole weekend is built around thanking them, but literally everyone we meet wants to thank us for supporting them. And that's just: it's extremely humbling and flattering, and it just goes to show the resolve of the men and women in uniform. They do not under any circumstances put themselves first.”
Cena notes the same theme of thanks no matter where the event goes. However, the WWE superstar definitely has different experiences when entering into war-torn areas of conflict during those early years of the event.
“There was obviously the element of disaster, and everyone was certainly on high alert,” Cena said, “but it's actually very comforting now that we can actually keep it domestic because that means that the conflict areas are dwindling. I truly miss those expeditions. We’d fly on the DC 17s and all of us kind of go over there and just rough it for a week, but it is very good news that more troops are home, are stationed home, are coming home, on the way home.
“…Now we can produce the events domestically in an arena and pretty much give the arena to the military and let them enjoy it for the day. The overseas ventures we had to set up our own arenas, and a lot of times it was literally starting with a desert floor and making do, and the soldiers would help our crew members construct whatever we could manage.
“It is two different experiences, I really did love being over there. I think the message does not lose any magnitude at all. The fact that we stayed domestic, and personally I like the fact that it's domestic, because it certainly says to me that the conflict areas are dwindling, and more of our men and women are home where they should be, with their families.”
Cena will compete against United States champ Antonio Cesaro on the “WWE Tribute to the Troops” telecast on NBC and the USA Network. Video will chronicle the memorable few days the WWE superstars and divas had interacting with service men and women. This included meet-and-greets, flying in an F18, partaking in a spirited game of dodgeball and going aboard the USS Mitscher warship.
U.S. Rear Admiral Tim Alexander, Commander, U.S. Navy Region Mid-Atlantic, observed firsthand what a morale booster these long-remembered moments can have.
“Whether you're at home or you're deployed, it's always nice to have somebody, who doesn't really have to frankly, stop and say, ‘Hey, thanks for what you do. We recognize you make some sacrifices, and we appreciate that. So we're grateful to WWE for taking the time to come down and spend some time with us here in Hampton Roads and for making us the subject of the 10th Tribute to the Troops.”
It’s not uncommon to watch Cena kiss the dog tags with names of his family around his neck or give out a trademark salute. The superstar, who starred in “The Marine” movie, exudes patriotism.
“This is the proudest day on our touring schedule,” Cena said. “I've often said that, and a lot of the superstars have said that. Almost so much so that it becomes cliché. It is not. This is a very proud day for me especially.
“I take great pride in being able to be put in front and center in front of the people who I admire most, and that's the people who defend our freedom. I adopt a lot of me, my creed and my personality from the military code of conduct.
“A simple word like hustle, loyalty, respect is easily translated to honor, code and country. It really is an extra special day for me. I'm glad we continued our relationship. I'm glad the folks at the Naval Station in Norfolk and bases around the country and abroad have opened their arms to give us not only a place to entertain, but the hospitality that they've given us over the years…We do in excess of 300 shows a year, and this is the proudest day on our calendar.”
Cena headlined the first “WWE Tribute to the Troops” event in 2003 against the Big Show from Bagdad, Iraq. Since then the WWE programming has changed its direction toward more family-oriented programming. Cena stood at the front of this content shift.
“It was a legitimate conscious decision,” he said. “Our programming has changed so much over the years. I started in 2002, and our program was more TV-14, edgy, anti-hero based, conflicts hero-based. And since then I think our program has made a turn for the better, into a more PG environment, all of our programming platform wise PG. The reason for that is simply because the people attending our events.
“A lot more families began to attend, more children began to attend. So when you have those young and youthful eyes looking at you, and you know that you’re global -- we're truly translated in 140 countries -- you tend to have choices to make and me being portrayed as a good guy on our programming, it was an obvious choice that I wanted to do my best to use my television time to set a good example.”
One thing that hasn’t changed is the dedicated military fanbase that follows the WWE product. The multi-time champion says it comes down to the company’s relationship with the military and the Armed Forces Network, which features WWE programming.
“We get a chance to give any man or woman in uniform domestically or foreign free tickets,” Cena said. “So we encourage the men and women who defend the freedom of this country and give me the right to work to be as involved with the storylines as they can, and they are. It is amazing no matter where we go. Navy, Army, Air Force, Marine, or National Guard outpost, everyone seems to know what's going on with WWE. So we put our programming out there, and they surely enjoy it and watch it.”
• WWE, USA Network and NBC will honor the United States Armed Forces with its 10th annual holiday special, “WWE Tribute to the Troops,” presented by Slim Jim.
The holiday extravaganza will air on USA Network as a two-hour television special starting at 9 p.m. EST Wednesday, Dec.19 and on NBC as a one-hour television special at 9 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 22.
“WWE Tribute to the Troops” has become a holiday tradition and is one of TV’s most patriotic and heartwarming shows. For this year’s event, WWE traveled to Virgina, visiting Naval Station Norfolk, the crown jewel of the United States Navy. The superstars and divas also toured Naval Station Little Creek and Naval Station Oceana as the Norfolk and Hampton Roads area is home to 125,000 active duty members, 830,000 veterans and many military families.
WWE’s brand of sports entertainment showcased the WWE superstars and divas wrestling at the Norfolk Scope. It also featured performances by Grammy Award-nominated, international superstars Kid Rock and Flo Rida and appearances by Disney’s The Muppets and St. Mick.
Flo Rida, who also performed live entrance music for The Rock at WrestleMania 28 at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, grew up in Miami-Carol City.
Flo Rida discussing WWE, WrestleMania 28, The Rock, Tribute to the Troops
YouTube (jimmyv3 channel): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TcP9gDvmEvc&feature=plcp.
• “WWE Tribute to the Troops” is part of WWE Week on the USA Network.
Tuesday, Dec. 18: WWE SmackDown (live) Commercial Free Special (8-10 p.m.) and “Fast & Furious” (2009) hosted by WWE superstar Big Show (10 p.m.-midnight)
What’s better than a regular episode of “SmackDown?” A live episode of “SmackDown.”
What’s even better than it being live? It’s commercial free.
Tune-in and enjoy. It’s USA Network’s gift to you for the holidays. Immediately following, tune-in to “Fast & Furious,” hosted by World champ Big Show. The 2009 film stars Vin Diesel and Paul Walker. Brian O’Conner (Walker), now working for the FBI in Los Angeles, teams with Dominic Toretto (Diesel) to bring down a heroin importer by infiltrating his operation.
Wednesday, Dec. 19: WWE Tribute to the Troops (9-11 p.m.)
WWE will once again honor the U.S. Armed Forces with its 10th annual holiday special, “WWE Tribute to the Troops,” presented by Slim Jim. “WWE Tribute to the Troops” has become a holiday tradition and is considered TV’s most patriotic and heartwarming show. The special, filmed at Navy installations in the Norfolk, Va. area, will feature performances by Grammy Award-nominated, international superstars Kid Rock and Flo Rida for thousands of military personnel and their families at the Scope Arena in Norfolk. Disney’s The Muppets will also visit to lend some holiday cheer.
Thursday, Dec. 20: Burn Notice guest starring WWE superstar Big Show (11 p.m.-midnight, repeat)
World champ Big Show goes toe-to-toe with the “Burn Notice” tag team of Michael Weston and Sam Axe in USA’s action-packed original series. Only the 7-0, 441-pound Big Show could be bigger in real life than a character dreamed up by the talented writers on “Burn Notice.” Get this—his character description portrays him as a 6-6, 300-pound monster of a man who looks like a grizzly bear with a rap sheet as vast as it is troubling.
Friday, Dec. 21: The Game Plan (2007) hosted by WWE superstar CM Punk (8:30-11 p.m.)
WWE champ CM Punk once again will reign as The Voice of the Voiceless as he hosts “The Game Plan,” which stars Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Krya Sedgwick and Madison Pettis. An NFL quarterback (Johnson) living the bachelor lifestyle discovers that he has an 8-year-old daughter (Pettis) from a previous relationship. What will the WWE champ have to say about The Rock?
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