ROTA, Spain —
The USO brought all-star entertainment to Naval Station Rota on Feb. 26, the first stop on a spring tour to visit troops abroad.
Navy Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr., vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, hosted the star-studded group of athletes, coaches and musicians.
"I am thankful for those who wear the cloth to serve our nation and serve our country overseas," Winnefeld said.
The show kicked off with opening remarks from the naval station's commanding officer, Navy Capt. Scott Kraverath.
"I'm honored to have the opportunity to host such a distinguished group of individuals," he said. "Events like these are great for morale and show our service members that their hard work and dedication do not go unnoticed."
During the show, members of the tour thanked service members for the sacrifices and service to the country.
"I'm so honored to be a part of this [USO tour]," said Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Vincent Jackson. "This being our first stop, obviously you guys are very special, and I'm excited to be here. I'm a military brat. On the flight over, talking to these guys -- [Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning] and some of the other athletes and cheerleaders -- one way or another, we all seem to be related to someone in the military.
"Whether it's a grandfather or a niece or nephew, brother or sister-in-law, we all know somebody who has served in our military," he added. "For myself, it was my father."
Jackson talked about his experience moving overseas and experiencing the military life as his father served in the Army.
"I don't like to make a comparison to the military and football -- sports, even, because you guys are on the front lines," he said. "You're dealing with live ammunition, doing something extreme. You're protecting our freedom, creating world peace and we pretty much, on Sundays, entertain people for four hours."
However, he added, there are some parallels between the National Football League and the military.
"The leadership, the sacrifice, the communication you guys have, the training, the bonding, the unselfish mentality that you have to have to create a team atmosphere," Jackson said. "Just like a football team, we come from all walks of life. You work together, you train to accomplish that mission, you build bonds and relationships that last a lifetime. That's kind of what we do as athletes."
Four-time World Series pitcher Curt Schilling also spoke of his appreciation.
"'Thank you' doesn't even begin to describe what we think, what we feel and how we feel about you and your families," he said. "I grew up the son of an airborne paratrooper. My dad served in the 101st [Airborne Division] for 20 years.
Schilling noted that this tour is his second with the USO.
"The first one was eight days that I'll never forget. This one is starting out to be unforgettable as well," he said. "Thank you. To the families, I know there's a price to be paid in uniform and by the families. It's just apparent that ... when we walk away today, that you are all in our thoughts and prayers. We wish you nothing but the best."
Manning also expressed his appreciation for the commitment service members have for the country.
"Thanks from the bottom of my heart," he said. "The one thing that has always motivated me playing football is being accountable to my teammates. What's really driven me for the past 16 years playing football is being accountable, doing my job at the very best that I can to be accountable to help my teammates. I know that's exactly what you believe in, as it's really what the military is all about."
Manning and Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Austin Collie threw autographed footballs to service members in the audience.
After the performance, members had a chance to meet with Winnefeld and the entertainers for a photo and autograph session.
"This is my third time on a USO tour, and my first time here in Spain," said Dallas Cowboys cheerleader Jackie Bob. "I'm so thankful and honored for you all to come up here and see us. It's an honor for us to be able to say 'thank you' for those that serve us."