Spc. Laura M. Bigenho
28th Public Affairs Detachment
CAMP VICTORY, Iraq -- Soldiers packed the MWR facility commonly known as "Area 51" to meet some of their favorite NFL players March 6.
Tight ends Alge Crumpler of the Atlanta Falcons and Benjamin Watson of the New England Patriots, linebacker Shelton Quarles of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and guard Will Shields of the Kansas City Chiefs signed autographs and took photographs with fans.
The NFL is continuing this offseason its legacy of more than 40 years of sending players overseas to visit with U.S. troops. This year's trip consists of a 12-day tour of several bases within Iraq and Afghanistan.
Each player had different personal reasons for coming to Iraq, but most agreed with Shields, who said he came to Iraq to see how troops live and because he wanted to show his support for them.
"I wanted to see for myself how things work and be able to support the troops in what they're doing," the 14-year veteran said. "It's a very important mission that they're on here."
Shields, 35, grew up with a father who spent 20 years in the military.
"In a small sense that is one of the reasons I wanted to do this trip, but in another way I wanted to experience a different story than what we listen to on the news," Shields said.
Shields said the players' trip to Iraq has been an eye-opening experience thus far. Being here has helped them gain a better understanding of the work and progress being made in the war-torn country.
"Seeing some of the things that had to transpire to get to this point is amazing, but to know how much more is going to have to be done before (Iraqis) actually feel free is even more important," he said.
For 24-year-old Sgt. Derek Briscoe, 727th Military Police Detachment, meeting some of his favorite NFL players served as a reminder that there are people in the United States who support the troops and care enough to come to Iraq to show them.
"It's a morale booster to come out here and see these guys supporting the troops," he said, holding up his autographed MP brassard and photos. "(We) appreciate them coming out."
The Daytona Beach, Fla., native, looks forward to showing his 2-year-old son the mementos when he is old enough to understand that his father served in Iraq.
For Shields, the experience is just as rewarding, if not more.
"They're putting their life on the line to make somebody else's life better," he said. "We give (the troops) mad love for what they're doing for us."
This work, NFL Players visit Victory troops, continue 12-day trek of Middle East, by SPC Laura Bigenho, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.