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The Pro Bowl Presented By USAA

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[Note: my condolences and sympathies to those of you digging out from Winter Storm Jonas. I grew up in Pittsburgh and was incarcerated at Annapolis for four winters, so I know how it feels. It’s why I live in Hawaii now. There’s a very good reason that the Hawaii Tourism Authority and the Hawaii Visitors & Conventions Bureau work so hard at this time of year to promote the Pro Bowl and other visitor attractions.]

[USAA members with storm damage can use the mobile app to file a claim (with your mobile photos!) and call a member service rep for assistance. If you don’t have USAA insurance then consider getting a USAA membership and a quote.]

We’re ramping up to Sunday’s Pro Bowl tailgater– and, oh yeah, the football game.

Those of you who know me well are probably smirking as you read: Nords at the Pro Bowl?!?  I know, “pearls before swine.”

For the rest of you, here’s a confession: I hardly watch TV, I no longer follow football rankings or statistics, and I can’t even spell ESPN. The last time I got excited about the NFL I was an impressionable young teen in the 1970s, back when Terry Bradshaw had hair and Mean Joe Greene was making Coke commercials.  But one of the USAA staff noted that I have a reputation as a numbers guy (guilty) and I’m fascinated by the tech and financial aspects of the business.  They wanted an articulate military veteran (that would be me) sharing the Pro Bowl events from a different perspective.

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Hawaii doesn’t even have a professional football team– and when’s the last time you saw the UH Rainbow Warriors in the college national championship? Never mind, don’t answer that.

Image of a Pittsburgh Steelers NFL football team logo on a Hawaiian ikaika helmet | The-Military-Guide.com
Steeler Nation is everywhere!

No worries: no ticket buyers were denied access to let me into the game. In fact, USAA and the NFL gave away several hundred military passes to the pre-game events, and more tickets to the game itself.

That’s because Hawaii has tens of thousands of football fans.  They might be a little island-style low-key, and there might be 32 different groups of them, but locals still enjoy a good professional football game.  The islands also produce a surprisingly large number of high-caliber college and professional players.

It’s even better when you can vote for your favorite players to bring their families to Hawaii in January to enjoy the sun, surf, and sand– and maybe autograph a few jerseys.

The Pearl Harbor boat tour

Image of USS ARIZONA Memorial USAA tour group including COMPACFLT Admiral Swift and NFL football player Hau'oli Kikaha | The-Military-Guide.com
PACFLT Boathouse before the tour

Tuesday’s trip around the harbor was offered to three NFL players (and USAA’s staff & families) by the PACFLT Boathouse.

Frankly, this is a tough tour to get because it’s in high demand. You might have to know somebody, or your teen has to want to go to the Naval Academy, or you arrange it as part of a military retirement ceremony. This was my third one (in 26 years) and it’s still as impressive as the first. It’s not just cruising by the USS ARIZONA Memorial and the USS MISSOURI Memorial. It’s also a glimpse of the restored WWII air traffic control tower on Ford Island’s Pacific Aviation Museum.  It’s seeing the USS NEVADA Memorial on Hospital Point.  (The ship my daughter is on, the USS ROSS, is named for Donald K. Ross, who received the Medal of Honor during the attack for leading the engineering effort to get the USS NEVADA underway that morning.)  It’s a reminder that the USS UTAH Memorial is right around the other side of Ford Island, and that the USS BOWFIN at the Submarine Museum is nicknamed “The Pearl Harbor Avenger”.

Image of the ship USS MISSOURI Memorial on USAA tour of Pearl Harbor | The-Military-Guide.com
USS MISSOURI Memorial
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It brings back personal memories. When I was stationed at the Naval Submarine Training Center Pacific, you could walk around Building 39 on Ford Island and see the concrete patches filling in the bullet holes. You could sit out back in the old smoking area, where several times a year WWII veterans would walk up to mentor, I mean, chat with you about their experiences during the attack. You could visit the COMSUBPAC admiral’s base house and see the concrete rooms in the basement’s old coastal-defense gunnery foundation where terrified families sheltered on 7 December 1941.

If you have the time, your small boat could take a 10-minute detour to the site of the West Loch Disaster.  I’d never even heard of this WWII incident until a retiring shipmate asked for the admiral’s barge to go there.

Remember. Honor. Understand.

2016 is the 75th anniversary of the attack, and USAA will be sponsoring more Pearl Harbor events for servicemembers & families.

The tour’s three NFL players are from the islands:  Hau’oli Kikaha (playing for New Orleans), and retired brothers Chris & Ma’ake Kemoeatu (with three Super Bowl rings between them).  Like many kama’aina, the last time they’d toured the USS ARIZONA Memorial was during an elementary school field trip.  They were thrilled to be able to see Pearl Harbor from this new perspective.

Image of four people in front of a wreath at the USS ARIZONA Memorial USAA wreath ceremony | The-Military-Guide.com
USS ARIZONA Memorial wreath laying

Our boat tied up at the Memorial to deliver a memorial wreath in the hall before the marble wall listing the names of the 1177 USS ARIZONA crew killed in the attack.  The Memorial was open for visitors, and over a hundred people were hearing the history of the attack and how the Memorial was built.  I’ve been on the tour a dozen times and it still gets to me.

(Trivia fact:  I learned a lot of this information when I was fortunate enough to edit the expanded 10th edition of Michael Slackman’s “Remembering Pearl Harbor”.  You can buy it online or browse it in the book store at the Memorial’s Visitor Center.)

After the boat tour ended, the NFL players met with a group of Naval Station sailors while the USAA crew worked on more interviews and video for this week and for future marketing products.  I enjoyed chatting with the Kemoeatu brothers about life after football (a transition process similar to life after the military) and with Hau’oli about how his career is growing.  He’s not a sports stereotype– he’s had a lot of time to think about his priorities and his local family, and he’s making sure he does football right.

The Pro Bowl Draft

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Image showing Army attack helicopter surrounded by media interviewing military and NFL players for a Pro Bowl TV commercial | The-Military-Guide.com
Shooting a commercial… take #17.

The draft ceremony was held at Wheeler Army Airfield. (Before the comments start, I’ll backtrack a second to point out that this base was attacked about five minutes before Pearl Harbor.  Several American pilots got into the air and scored the first dogfight kills of the Pacific war.)  Wheeler is going through a huge multi-year renovation (my spouse and I drive by there a few times a month) and it’s becoming one of Oahu’s best-kept secrets for base housing and incredible tropical scenery.

This draft had none of the tension or suspense of the NFL rookie draft. If anything, it was more like the middle-school pickup game where you worry about being the last player picked for the team. I’ve never seen so many gigantic humans gathered in one big room to enjoy the ambiance while talking trash at each other. Hey, the coaches, players, & fans decided who could be here.

The Army’s attendees seemed to be having a good time, too. Pro Bowl Draft tickets were donated by USAA and the NFL for hundreds of servicemembers & families to view the event, and it was broadcast live on ESPN2.

Image of cameras everywhere among attack helicopters at Wheeler Army Air Field for the Pro Bowl draft event
“Best seat in the house”

The TV set for the draft was closed to all but a small audience of 50 military (too much noise on the set!) so most of the attendees were on the flightline or in the hangar next door.  I spent my time brushing up on my helicopter recognition training and talking with the flight crews, but I was surprised at how many NFL players were out there with us.  They could have stayed in the cool hangar drinking cold beverages and yummy pupus, but instead most of them jumped right in among the helicopter crews– peppering them with questions and asking about war stories.  Tyler Eifert even carried around a football helmet and asked the helicopter crews to give him their autographs.

Let’s just say that defensive linebackers don’t seem to fit into the cockpits of attack helicopters.  One crew chief admitted that they’d spend most of the next morning fixing parts that were accidentally snapped off as people got in & out of the helos, and then another hour checking that all the switches were in the right positions.

Among the camera crews from USAA (commercials and member stories), the NFL, and the local media, we had a professional photographer for nearly every football player.

The rest of the week

So what are the players and fans doing for the next few days?

Well, that’s the funny part: only a couple days of football.

If you’re reading this post on the day it’s published, today is “Marine For A Day” at Kaneohe Marine Corps Base.  It’s a private event for the Marines and families with the players and I won’t be tweeting from that.  Being Marines, I predict they’ll be supervising NFL players generating plenty of expended ordnance and a few demonstration explosions.

Friday and Saturday is practice time, but with a twist.  Instead of public events at fields around Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam as in previous Pro Bowls, this year the players are up at Turtle Bay Resort.  Rumor is that they’ll use football fields at the resort or at local high schools where fan attendance will be limited to teens & student coaches.

Oh, there’s also plenty of meets & greets.  The players are visiting local hospitals & charities, including Wounded Warriors at Tripler Army Medical Center.  The media might occasionally run an interview or show coverage of the players getting ready for the game. But most of the people who flew here are seeking a couple days of sunshine, surf, and sand along with the military events. Maybe it’s not the single-minded hard-charging aggressive pursuit of victory that’s happening on the Mainland this week, but if you’re not in the Super Bowl this year then it’s a great consolation prize. And if you live here, we call that “quality of life” or “island style”. If you’re going to work hard, then you’ll play hard.

Me? I’m still trying to convince a few of these Mainland folks to ride a longboard. They seem skeptical that if a veteran in his 50s with bad knees can learn to surf, then almost anyone can do it.

By the way, the Hawaii Tourism Authority just announced that the Pro Bowl will be played on Oahu next year on 29 January 2017.  USAA will be sponsoring another week of activities for military & families.  Save the date and make your travel plans now!

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