JOINT BASE BALAD, Iraq — World Wrestling Entertainment superstars and divas filmed a holiday special entitled "WWE Tribute to the Troops," Dec. 4 at Holt Stadium at Joint Base Balad, Iraq, to honor deployed service members.
"WWE Tribute to the Troops" is an hour long special that will air Dec. 19 at 9 p.m. Eastern time on NBC.
"It's awesome; it's really our Super Bowl," said Vince McMahon, chairman of the WWE out of Stamford, Conn. "Everyone thinks Wrestle Mania is [the big event], but it's really not. This is our seventh year over [here] and this is the biggest thing we do all year. We just thoroughly enjoy it."
Jason E. Robinson, production designer for WWE and a Knoxville, Tenn., native, said he gets goose bumps every year while watching the stage being built. He said he also gets goose bumps watching thousands of troops salute during the national anthem.
"I'm getting them right now [talking about it]," he said.
The job of every superstar, diva and staff member back at the WWE home office is to put smiles on people's faces all over the world, said McMahon.
"Nowhere do we see such smiles as when we come over here," he said. "To perform before our armed forces is extraordinary."
John Cena, a wrestling superstar, said this is his sixth year traveling overseas to entertain the troops for the holiday season. The superstars and divas stay three or four days and try to meet as many of the uniformed men and women as they can, but the days fly by, he said.
"Today is the day I'm most proud of," he said. "The handshake tour is one thing, but to be able to set up shop and actually broadcast television from here is something special."
Sgt. Michael A. Carruth, battalion maintenance office clerk with Task Force 1st Battalion, 155th Infantry Regiment out of McComb, Miss., and a Summit, Miss., native, said he stood next to the entrance ramp and interacted with a lot of the visitors. He said the divas were the highlight of the show, but he enjoyed the visit as a whole.
Carruth met McMahon, Cena, Chris Jericho, MVP, The Miz, Finley, Alicia Fox, and CM Punk, he said.
"As an avid fan of the WWE, it was fantastic," he said. "I found the superstars of wrestling, and especially Mr. McMahon, to be very humble and friendly. Some went out of their way to say thank you and pose for photos with the troops — very down to earth."
Cena, Carruth's 10 year old son's hero, gave him an autograph to take home, he said.
"To do that for my son is a once in a life time opportunity," said Carruth.
When Carruth spoke to WWE chairman McMahon, he found McMahon to be sincere in his respect for service members, he said.
"I was only able to shake hands and say 'thank you' to Mr. McMahon before the show; he said 'No, thank you for your service,'" said Carruth. "It seemed that he was genuinely humble and meant it."
Capt. Shawn M. Owens, officer in charge of the joint defense operations center with the 332nd Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron and a Tuttle, Okla., native, said he does not have a favorite wrestler. His wife and sons' favorite is John Cena, and his boys also like Chris Jericho, he said.
"I like them all and I just enjoy the fact they came out here to spend some time with us," said Owens.
Owens said the trip the WWE superstars and divas take to come to Iraq and visit the troops makes the deployment worthwhile.
"It really is just a blessing that they think of us the way they think of us," he said.
McMahon said the WWE staff considers the trip to Iraq a privilege, especially because they spend time with troops when their families cannot. He said he wanted to show his support for the men and woman of the armed services.
"This is a small token of our appreciation on behalf of everybody at WWE, on behalf of everybody back home," said McMahon. "There is no price tag on that; there is no price tag on freedom. We just came over to say thank you."
Cena said he is passionate in his respect for the armed forces and believes in honor and commitment. He said he takes these beliefs with him every day.
"These men and women make the ultimate commitment to defend my freedom, to defend the United States of America," said Cena. "Words can't describe how proud I am of that."