November 10, 2016 –
Tension filled the air as servicemembers anxiously awaited the arrival of NFL players into Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina.
As the players walked in a wave of silence rushed over the crowd and the football players were quickly engulfed by servicemembers, handshakes and selfies.
Panther’s mascot, Sir Purr, glided in on a hoverboard, cruising through the Grid Iron Club while high fiving the servicemembers.
More than 20 servicemembers were given the chance to play video games against a few players from the Carolina Panthers during the Pro vs. GI Joe event, Nov. 7. After the initial rush of excitement had settled, everyone put their game faces on: it was time to get down to business.
The 108th Training Command (Initial Entry Training) had two of their own participate for the first time in the video game challenge, Capt. Jerome Russell, operations officer, and Master Sgt. Fernando Lopez, budget analyst.
“I have participated in flag ceremonies and other community relations events,” said Russell. “But not one involving video games and close up interaction with the players.”
“I’ve seen the videos and saw what a great time everybody had, so I was really looking forward to it when I was told that I was invited,” said Lopez.
Pro vs. GI Joe has been bringing athletes and servicemembers together here in Charlotte since 2010. It’s a nonprofit organization that is a part of the Joint Forces Initiative. Founded in 2007, it allows professional athletes to play live video games with servicemembers who are stateside, overseas or deployed.
There were plenty of games to play, sports games, war games and Rock Band was available for those that aren’t as familiar with a game controller.
Russell says, Madden 2017 was one of his favorite games to play against the athletes.
“They are actual NFL players. You feel like you’ve accomplished a little bit more when you play against someone who truly knows the game versus the regular guy,” said Russell.
Lopez took the opportunity to mingle with the other services while playing Rock Band, while Russell wasn’t willing to risk defeat against the Athletes.
“It was real neat to meet other personal from different military services,” he said. “I got to play Rock Band with a couple of Marines and that was fun. We had a great time.”
“I didn’t play Rock Band, but it was pretty interesting to watch,” said Russell. “Some of the guys playing it, their coordination level is so much greater than mine.”
Russell wasn’t afraid to lay the smack down on Michael Griffin, a safety for the Panthers, but he was humble about it.
Taking over the losing team during halftime, Russell said. It wasn’t all about winning, but making it competitive.
Russell and Lopez aren’t Panthers fans, but they cheer for them when they play.
“I’m a Falcons fan,” said Russell. “But most of the time as long as the city that I’m living in isn’t playing against the Falcons I root for the home team.”
“I’m a Miami fan, but I like Greg Olsen, he’s from the University of Miami,” Lopez said. “I do support the Panthers because of that.”
Both Soldiers had fun, but said it was about a lot more than bringing servicemembers and professional athletes together.
“I think it was great,” said Russell. “Anytime that we can get out and mingle with any member of the community is good for the command as a whole.”
All around the event was success. It brought out the competitive spirit in everyone and everyone left a winner.