4th of July with the Sweethearts

Sweethearts for Soldiers had a big 4th of July weekend earlier this month. Sweethearts Brianne, Natalie, and Jill traveled to Oregon for this trip. Some of you will recognize these ladies. Brianne is a rookie Tennessee Titans Cheerleader. Prior to this, she was a San Diego Charger Girl. Natalie is a former Baltimore Ravens Cheerleaders, and Jill is a retired member of the ROAR of the Jaguars.

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Jill, Brianne, and Natalie

The Sweethearts are a group of current and former NFL cheerleaders who were involved in visiting and supporting our military during their time on the squad, and wanted to continue those activities beyond the team’s commitments. You can learn all about their efforts at SweetheartsforSoldiers.org. Make sure to visit, especially if you are interested in becoming a Sweetheart yourself!

Let’s hear all about their trip from Brianne:


I, along with two other Sweethearts for Soldiers, just had the most memorable 4th of July weekend. It all started with Jill, Natalie and me taking 5 hour flights across the country to the small, but significant, town of Keizer, Or. Keizer is especially significant to me because I was born and raised there. On the morning of July 3rd, we made an appearance on the Terry Sol show, which can be heard locally on KBZY radio station.

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We then attended our first event at McNary Golf Course’s “Prime Steak and Seafood” restaurant, where the community came together to raise money for the Fallen Soldiers’ fund. I had a great time entertaining the guests on the back veranda, with my country music.

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After running a rehearsal at The Courthouse Athletic Club, we made an appearance at Keizer’s hottest new restaurant/bar, On the Rocs, where I again held a concert to entertain the guests. We signed autographed Sweetheart calendars and promoted our 4th of July event to be held the next day.

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On July 4th my fellow Sweethearts and I went to Volcanoes Stadium where nearly 5,000 people were waiting for a night of country music, baseball, performances by The Sweethearts for Soldiers and the 234th National Guard Army Band, and appearances by very special war heroes.

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The evening began with my pre-game concert which was very well attended. Afterwards, the opening ceremonies were outstanding. I was then honored to throw the first ceremonial pitch along with Oregon’s only living Congressional Medal of Honor winner from World War II, Robert Maxwell, and the featured soldier from the tv mini-series, “Band of Brothers”, Don Malarkey.

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As the two WWII heroes were introduced, the crowd of 4,826 gave them a 2-3 minute standing ovation. The 234th Army Band played the National Anthem, and then God Bless America in the 7th inning. The 6th Marines also presented the colors.

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During the 4th inning, we brought three soldiers, who had just returned home from Iraq, onto the field, introduced them, which prompted another rousing round of applause. The Sweethearts danced during the middle of the 3rd and 6th innings, and did a fabulous job.

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We also had a table on the main concourse, signed autographs, took a lot of pictures with Volcanoes fans, and sold our Sweetheart calendars. During the 8th inning, we visited everyone in all of the Sky box Suites, and took pictures with them as well.

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As soon as the game was over, and before the Fireworks began, I was honored to sing my new song, “Parades”. This is a song dedicated to the troops, which I sang from home plate to several thousand fans. It was a very emotional moment that I will never forget!

After my song, the Army Band played patriotic songs during the entire Fireworks show. What a way to end a perfect night which reminded us all WHY we celebrate July 4th. Let Freedom Ring!!!! God bless all our soldiers and God bless the USA! You can find my original song for the troops, “Parades” on iTunes and on MySpace under Brianne Marie Beaty. And don’t forget to go to www.SweetheartsForSoldiers.com to buy our 2009 calendar and support our non-profit military outreach organization!

“I think we hit a grand slam! The girls were so nice, and just so wonderful to our fans, and on their community visits. They are truly outstanding ambassadors for the “Sweethearts for Soldiers”, and it was so good to have Brianne perform here — back home”. – Jerry Howard – Senior Marketing Account Executive for the Volcanoes

Silver Dancers Visit Mexico City

San Antonio Spurs: The San Antonio Spurs Silver Dancers recently traveled to Mexico City to promote the Spurs and the NBA south of the border at the NBA Mexico 3×3 tournament. >>Watch part 1 now!

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MVC Visit Devil’s Lake, ND

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By MVC Jessie, 3-year veteran
Vikings.com
7/1/2009

All aboard! Nikki and Jessie hopped on the train and headed to Devil’s Lake, ND, for Military Appreciation Day on June 20. This annual event offers the community an opportunity to join together in showing their appreciation for the military. Nikki and Jessie were both happy and proud to bring some Vikings cheer to Devil’s Lake and show their appreciation as well! They enjoyed the powerful speakers and meeting many men and women who serve our country, along with their spouses and children. They also had an opportunity to take a tour of the city of Devil’s Lake!

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Nikki and Jessie met many members of the North Dakota Patriot Guard. This group of riders has one thing in common besides motorcycles, and that is their unwavering respect for those who risk their lives for America’s freedom and security. This group of motorcyclists made a powerful impact on the event as they came riding in together in honor of the military. Once the day came to a close, the girls hopped back on the train for their 8-hour ride back home.

Eagles Cheerleaders Heading to the Middle East

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Cheerleaders Heading To Iraq
PhiladelphiaEagles.com
June 25, 2009

On July 1, 2009, six Philadelphia Eagles Cheerleaders will depart for Iraq and Kuwait as part of a 12-day goodwill military tour. This marks the second consecutive year that Eagles Cheerleaders will travel to the Middle East to visit US military servicemen and women. The tour is designed to entertain and boost the morale of the soldiers, many of whom are serving lengthy tours of duty in Iraq and Kuwait.

The cheerleaders will be performing variety shows at the bases in addition to meet-and-greets and autograph sessions. The cheerleaders will truly get a sense of the soldiers’ sacrifice as they fly in Black Hawk helicopters, sleep in the barracks and endure the severe climate.

Amanda Bedford, a fourth-year member of the squad, will be one of the six current cheerleaders making the trip.

“I’m going to Iraq and Kuwait not only to boost the morale of our brave soldiers and show my support, but also for more personal reasons,” she said. “I have friends and family currently serving our country in the military, as well as family members who have given their lives to protect our freedom. This tour is my small contribution to those who have sacrificed so much for us.”

Joining Bedford will be Krystle Campbell of Media, PA, Tiffany Monroe of Absecon, NJ, Janelle Stangl of Bethlehem, PA, Alexandra Stephan of Shamong, NJ, and Priscilla Williams of Pennsauken, NJ.

The new cheerleaders embarking on the 2009 tour are looking forward to the visit in part because of the experiences that the cheerleaders had during last year’s tour. Rachel Washburn, who was part of the 2008 tour said, “It was a life-changing experience. It was an opportunity for me to express my appreciation and thank them in person for the sacrifices they are making to protect us and people throughout the world. They are so courageous!”

In addition to traveling to Iraq and Kuwait, the Eagles Cheerleaders have also traveled previously to Bosnia and Kosovo for goodwill military tours. The Eagles Cheerleaders are very active in making appearances at military bases and veterans hospitals in PA, NJ, and DE. Most recently, they appeared at the Walk for the Wounded in Delaware County, a fundraiser for injured soldiers, and at a welcome home celebration at Sovereign Bank Arena for 1,600 members of the Army National Guard that just returned home from Iraq.

“These outstanding NFL cheerleaders will have a tremendous impact on the military personnel serving our country. All of the participants have expressed their passion for our troops overseas and are looking forward to a successful tour and once-in-a-lifetime experience,” says David Chavez, President of Pro Sports MVP.

Raiderettes Visit Troops in Iraq

Raiders.com
June 8, 2009

Last week, a group of five Raiderettes, Tiphanie, Cole, Meena, Emily and Ashlee, visited several United States military bases in Iraq. The Raiderettes spent time with U.S. servicemembers in Iraq.

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Meena sent the following on May 30th: “I am finally getting some time to sit down and send off some e-mails. We arrived at FOB Delta in Iraq this morning. It is near the city of Al Quds. For the first time in our Middle East experience we are staying in a tent! It is lined on both sides with about six or seven bunk beds down each side. The “wall” and “ceiling” are tent-like with solid metal beams as interior supporting structures. Cool air is pumped in, but it’s not doing much in this heat. It is super windy and when we lay down on our beds the “walls” actually are snapping with the wind and hitting us in the head. It’s pretty funny actually.

We’ll be performing on an outdoor stage, it is basically the bed of a flat bed truck. The crews here have placed a wood flooring on top of the rusty metal. In the background is a bombed out building, and all around the stage there are mortar bunkers. It’s quite a scene. Today while we were marking our spots and rehearsing our show a soldier approached us and asked if any of us had cheered in high school or college. I was the only one who said yes. He asked if I cheered coed, and I again said yes. Without missing a beat, he asked “Do you wanna stunt?” So after we were finished rehearsing I threw a couple of stunts with him. It was really cool. I also learned that the Raiderettes are the first cheerleaders to perform at this base, so the troops here are extremely excited.

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Our first two days included an evening performance at Camp Beuhring in Iraq after enduring a day of 130+ degrees. Unkown to us, our security detail had made a call to have medics standing by during our performance in case any of us went down. We all made it through safely, but it was good to know our security detail was looking out for us. Our second performance was at Camp Basrah in Iraq to one of the rowdiest crowds I’ve seen in awhile. We had a lot of fun with them and found some die-hard Raider fans.

It’s a little cooler today, maybe around 100 degrees…very windy, we can actually feel the dust and sand on our teeth. I don’t know how these men and women live in this day in and day out. Until you’ve been here, it is difficult to fully understand. I would compare it to standing in front of a massive blow dryer all day.

That’s it for now…we’ll touch base as soon as we get a chance again! Not sure where we are headed next, but we are ready for the adventure.”

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Cole checked in on June 1st: “We did a live appearance from here in Iraq on KRON 4 [with Vern Glenn]. We have already completed two shows. We started in Kuwait, then flew to Baghdad, and back to Kuwait, and then to Iraq. This has been such and emotional trip in many ways. We all are so humbled by what we have witnessed. Equally so proud of what our soldiers have accomplished. They truly are our country’s heroes and we are so honored to be able to thank them for all they do, and all they have sacrificed. Great stories already to tell. Funny moments, tearful moments. We met one of the generals last night, big highlight for all of us. We have collected four coins and one patch so far. We have to go get ready for our next show this evening at 1900. Our agenda is demanding. Not a lot of sleep, or downtime.”

Cole checked in again on June 2nd: “Just quick update. We met a three-star general today! We have six coins now and three patches. We played Rock band with the special forces yesterday, and had a jam session for fun. We also were present during a private promotion ceremony for the special forces. We’re about to head to our next meet and greet, and then get ready for our show here at Camp Striker. Thanks for all your support. We are in such great hands, and feel very safe. Military troops are motivated and happy we are here. Carmen our tour guide is taking such great care of us.”

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During the Raiderettes trip to the Middle East, several soldiers sent e-mail to Raiders.com thanking Football’s Fabulous Females for visiting them. Here is a sampling…

“I am writing this e-mail for “Team C,” the Raiderettes, who appeared in FOB Delta on Saturday night in Iraq. I just wanted to thank your team for coming out here to give us a little entertainment while we are deployed. It meant a lot to us and something like that really goes a long way.” – Marc R

“I am writing this to you today from FOB Delta, Iraq. I am writing this to you today because last night myself and hundreds of other soldiers were entertained by five of your sexy and lovely and courageous Raiderettes. They are Tiphanie, Emily, Ashlee, Meena, and Cole (TEAM C). I would like to thank the Raiders for allowing them to come here to Iraq and entertain us. It was a great show. They were very enthusiastic and they tried very hard to get people up on stage. I myself was one that was up on stage during the dance off. And like it was said last night by a colonel of the base, ‘maybe we’re heroes for being here doing what we do best but just the simple fact that they came here just to try and show us a good time and help us have a good night that made them the heroes’ hero.’ Even though they were here for just one night it was the best night that I have had in a long time. We are eternally grateful for them coming. If they didn’t come I probably wouldv’e just stayed in my tent like I have so many other nights and watched a movie. But them coming here made me so happy. It just boosted my morale level so high for the next month. Them being here and giving us the best show that they could made me feel like I was sitting in the front row on the 50-yard line at a Raiders game. They did a outstanding job and I believe they should be recognized for it. In closing I would just like to say THANK YOU again for allowing them to be here last night. Thank you again and have a safe and happy 2009. From your number one Raider and Raiderettes fan…” – John G.

We’ll have more from the Raiderettes trip to the Middle East, including Vern Glenn’s satellite interview, online later in the week.

Raiderettes Abroad: Photo Gallery

Oakland Raiderettes take a spin around MND-B
By Staff Sgt. Mark Burrell and Staff Sgt. James Selesnick
NewsBlaze.com
June 06,2009
Photos (click on each to view hi-res version)

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Raiderettes in Basra

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Silver and Black marches on COB Basra
By Staff Sgt. Derek Smith
The 34th Red Bull Infantry Division
June 1, 2009
Photos

CONTINGENCY OPERATING BASE BASRA, Iraq – The latest set of boots to hit the ground were a sharp contrast to the tan and green of military footwear as the stark white boots of the Oakland Raider Cheerleaders, the Raiderettes, marched through COB Basra and right into service members’ hearts May 29.

The silver and black-clad sirens performed their variety show, met with Soldiers and gave thanks for military members’ efforts in Iraq as part of their tour through the region.

“It’s been exhilarating and thrilling,” said Emily, one of “Football’s Fabulous Females”. “The experience has been nothing short of an honor since the first moment we got here.”

The Basra heat found some strong competition this night, but the Raiderettes were not to be denied their place in the hearts and minds of service members crammed up against the Morale, Welfare and Recreation stage. Camera flashes erupted like an approaching storm yet were still outshone by the smiles of the Oakland Raiders’ ambassadors.

The conditions in Iraq also allowed them to put things into perspective, the ladies said.

“We’ve experienced travelling with the Soldiers first-hand and feeling what it’s like to go through the heat out here,” explained Cole, the brunette veteran of the squad. “People explained that it was going to be hot here in Iraq, but you don’t know until you’re out here and the wind is blowing. It feels like a blow-dryer.”

“We look at (the Soldiers) and we know that we’re going through it and we’re trying to be soldiers for them and be strong for them,” she said, solemnly. “We know that they do this every day and to experience that is very humbling to us.”

Pats Tour Diary

NFL Navy Tour Journal
Patriots.com
2/24/09

Read our journal sharing the experience the Patriots Cheerleaders recently had while traveling overseas to visit our U. S. military troops who are stationed in the Middle East, Persian Gulf and Africa.

View Photos from the tour >>

Hey everyone, Brittany here! I am so excited to share with you the experience the Patriots Cheerleaders recently had while traveling overseas to visit our U. S. military troops who are stationed in the Middle East, Persian Gulf and Africa.

The excitement started in early January, when Angela L., Danielle, Jillian, Julia and I were notified by Coach Tracy that we had been selected to take part in an overseas tour with the Navy. We couldn’t wait to see the world, as it was a first-time military tour experience for all five of us.

Jan 27th & 28th, 2009
Packed and ready to roll, we met at Logan airport late Tuesday evening. We said our goodbyes to family and friends, and skillfully reorganized our suitcases to meet the 50-pound bag requirement at the check-in counter. Boy did our carry-on bags get heavy! After what seemed like days, we arrived in Amsterdam to meet up with the second half of our crew; five NFL players and their escort, Dave. We spent a few minutes introducing ourselves to Dave, Noah, Adam, Nick and Tyrone. “The players” or “guys” as we often referred to them, all came from different teams throughout the NFL. At the time of first meeting, I don’t think any of us could have anticipated that these strangers from rival teams would soon become a part of what morphed into an awesome family of NFL representatives. Our group, now doubled in size, boarded the next plane to Bahrain. We were unsure what exactly the next 10 days had in store for us, but were eager to find out.

Jan 29th, 2009
The first two days of traveling seemed a blur as we awoke in a Bahrain hotel room ready to start the adventure on Thursday morning. Our first trip was a journey by helicopter into the Persian Gulf onto a ship called the USS Carter Hall. For most of us, this was our first time traveling in a “helo.” All strapped in, I was initially a little frightened. But after we were off ground, it was really beautiful to see the Arabic Sea, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia from the air.

Once landed on the Carter Hall, we were greeted cheerfully by the crew and took part in a guided tour around the ship. With our cameras out, we clicked away hundreds of pictures as we learned all about the jobs of the sailors on board. We learned that the Carter Hall is called an “Amphibian” ship because it functions both on land and in water. One of the most priceless moments of the night came when Tracy decided to transform from cheerleading coach into a barber, and skillfully gave one of the crew members a sharp “edge up.” We all thought he looked fabulous and Tracy now has a retirement plan from NEPC!

Jan 30th, 2009
Friday morning we awoke to the cheerful sounds of Danielle and Noah over the loud speakers on the morning announcements. With Michael Jackson playing in the background, they offered up the daily trivia question: “The more you take, the more you leave behind.” What could it be? Think about it…. (If you give up, you can find the answer at the end of this blog). And just for a hint, the answer is something that we had to take a lot of while on board the ships. What a workout!

After exploring more of the ships separate departments, we went up on deck to watch one of the special mission crew’s simulate a mission. The sailors and marines scaled the side of the ship, with guns on their backs, on a ladder that lowered them into a smaller boat in the water below. The mission: investigate a suspicious boat nearby. Could it be pirates? Well, this time it was just for practice but these guys are no joke! Go Navy!

After lunch, we said our goodbyes to the Carter Hall and departed via helicopter to our next destination, the USS Nitze. Onboard the Nitze, we were taken to “the bridge,” where we took turns steering the ship! We made our way around the ship and introduced ourselves to the crew. One of the coolest rooms, the command center, looked like a big arcade filled with video games. Obviously, they weren’t games, but rather surveillance mechanisms aimed at keeping the ship safe. We learned that unlike the Carter Hall, the Nitze is a “Destroyer” ship, mainly used for combat.

At dinner, we split up as some ate among the crew in the mess deck, and others with the “XO” or Executive Officer. I must admit, food time was one of the best parts of each day! Every meal we had the opportunity to sit down with the sailors and soldiers on board and learn about their lives, their families and ask the famous question “when do you get to go home?” Despite a little wave of seasickness here and there, we all managed to have a nice evening. We signed autographs and took pictures with our new friends. Best of all, it ended with an ice cream social to honor some members of the crew and to celebrate January birthdays. Yummy! Sleeping was somewhat a challenge, since the bunks were piled three high and allowed minimal room to move! I still can’t figure out how the big NFL guys even fit!

Jan 31st, 2009
Before our departure the next day, we toured the Nitze some more. Again, snapped a hundreds of pictures and said our goodbyes to the awesome crew. Where to next? Back to Bahrain for the night, but not before we had a slight detour to Kuwait. In order to make a transfer from helicopter to a C-130 plane, we were dropped off on an airport runway for about an hour as it became dark outside. We attempted to pass the time away and calm our nerves by playing a little game led by Julia called “would you rather.” She was very creative in her examples and one of my favorites was, “would you rather have velcro facial features or a transparent torso?” Tough one…but you’ll have to decide. Even better, we had a HUGE rice crispy treat that had been given to Tracy onboard the Nitze that was passed around for all to share. Needless to say, we survived!

Feb 1st, 2009
After a good night’s sleep at the hotel, we were ready to head out to the biggest ship yet, the USS Theodore Roosevelt. In our days prior, we had heard so much about this ship and could not wait to perform our first show on what everyone calls the “Big Stick.” This trip, we flew in a COD plane (Carrier Onboard Delivery) and actually got to land on the aircraft carrier! The running joke is that COD actually stands for “Crash on Deck.” It actually felt like a rollercoaster ride, a huge rush! When we got off the COD, the CO (Commanding Officer), XO and tons of the other crew members were there to welcome us. After a delicious lunch and the best chocolate chip cookies ever, we geared back up and headed out to the flight deck. There, we were able to get up close and personal to watch some flight operations take place. Literally, the planes were landing and taking off the ship right in front of our faces! We could feel the heat of the engines and were practically blown over by the wind and smoke.

The rest of the day was just as exciting, as we toured this amazing ship and met the crew. At one point, we all took part in what’s called a daily FOD walkdown (foreign object detection). This is where the crew walks the entire length of the flight deck looking for any objects or material that may damage the plane’s engine if it were to get sucked in. We were pro’s at this walk since the cheerleaders take part in a similar exercise at the end of each practice when we pick up the stray pom-pom pieces off of our practice field!

As the evening approached, we began to anticipate our 1st show! We relaxed for a bit by watching the beautiful sunset and we even saw dolphins and flying fish soaring through the waves. It was quite a sight to see. After dinner, we prepared for our big show in the hangar bay. About 2,500 of the shipmates attended our show and eagerly took part in the audience participation. We had a blast! After the show, we signed autographs and took pictures until well after midnight. Since the Super Bowl didn’t air live until 3:15 a.m. there, we made it our personal mission to stay awake and watch!

Feb 2nd, 2009
After an almost all-nighter (45 min of sleep max) we rallied along to the next day. The crew guided us in a tour of the divisions we had yet to see. It was unbelievable to learn about all of the tasks that take place each day on the TR. When it was time to go, we met back in the Captain’s quarters to say our goodbyes, sign autographs and take part in a special presentation by the TR crew. In addition to being presented with some more awesome coins, the CO presented us all with a Tailhook certificate, to certify that we had successfully participated in a COD wire catch and catapult launch (impending at the time). We are all proud to proclaim ourselves as honorary NEPC Tailhookers!

With that said, let me next describe to you the experience of the catapult launch. Well, truthfully it can’t really be explained so you are just going to have to imagine what it may feel like to go from zero to nearly 140 miles p/hr in less than 3 seconds! Yikes! Back to Bahrain we went, our “home away from home.” After a relaxing night, we were refreshed to head off to our next destination- Djibouti, AFRICA!

Feb 3rd, 2009
The flight to Djibouti was long, approximately 5 hours. As we flew, many of us took turns visiting the cockpit and some of us even attempted to fly the plane! Talk about turbulence! We embarked on Africa with our heads glued against the windows to view the sights from above. On the base, we toured around mostly in an air-conditioned bus since it was so hot outside! Later that evening, we hosted show number two at a recreation club on base called “11 Degrees North.” Again, the troops were pumped to take part in the act and definitely helped us perform a great show for their peers!

Feb 4th, 2009
In the morning, we had fun touring the helicopters and playing with big guns (unloaded of course)! The girls even took part in a friendly game of basketball and hacky sac with some of the soldiers. After lunch, we geared up in our newly purchased military garb and were back off to Bahrain. This time the flight was a bit longer and we took a C-130 cargo plane. We made it into Bahrain by 9 p.m. and spent the rest of the night relaxing on the town with a nice group dinner. Reality was starting to set in that our trip was almost over. Looking around the dinner table, it was an incredible feeling to realize the amazing friendships we had developed with our group and the many people we met along this journey so far.

Feb 5th, 2009
Although Bahrain had been our “home base” for the last 10 days, we had yet to explore outside the local hotel area. Today, that would change! We woke up early and headed out to see a bit of the city. Our first stop was at the Mosque, the largest one in Bahrain! In order to enter this place of worship, we had to dress in traditional Islamic attire with robes and scarves. We were guided around the Mosque and learned a lot about Islam. It was beautiful! After that, we ventured over to the market place known as the Souq, or Souk. Here, there were tons of stores selling everything from gold to singing stuffed camels. We all spent the next few hours getting our shop on! Later on, we went back to the hotel for a quick change and were off to the Bahrain military base. On the base, we felt as if we were on a college campus. It was a cool place. We walked around for a bit and met the CO, while recruiting people to come watch our show. Around 5:00 p.m. we performed our final show of the tour. It was a great way to end a great trip!

Our adventure came to a quick end back at the hotel when we sadly saw off the players and Dave the escort. As they continued on to Greece, we packed up our things to head back home to Boston. During our travels, many of the troops thanked us for taking the time to come and visit them. Our response to them was honest; it was to them that we owed thanks. This trip allowed each of us to gain a much better understanding of the work our troops are doing overseas to protect us all here at home. I think I speak on behalf of all of us Patriots here in New England and around the world, when I say “Thank You” once again to the true Patriots who are out there fighting for our country. This tour was truly a life-changing experience for us all and we can’t wait to go back!

I hope you enjoyed hearing about our travels and if you’re still stuck on the trivia question, the answer is………………………….. “STEPS!”

Cheers & Go PATS!
Brittany

Los Gatos women on Raiderettes squad visit the troops in Iraq and Kuwait

By Marianne L. Hamilton
Los Gatos Weekly-Times
03/02/2009

When Meena Shams and Ariel Ogilvie make public appearances, they’re almost always in uniform. As members of the Raiderettes, cheerleading squad for the Oakland Raiders, the Los Gatos residents are typically decked out in their familiar silver and black costumes.

Recently, though, the pair found themselves attired in bulletproof vests and Kevlar helmets. But to the soldiers they were visiting at military bases in Iraq and Kuwait, it was just business as usual.

On Jan. 28, Shams and Ogilvie — accompanied by fellow cheerleader Jovann Canada from Pleasanton — boarded a plane for Kuwait. The three were chosen to represent the squad by Raiderettes director Karen Kovac, who felt the trio brought a unique set of talents and life experiences to the task.

“Going on these trips is a huge honor, and the slots are highly coveted,” Kovac says. “Meena and Jovann are line captains, and have been with us for several seasons. They have plenty of experience with being in charge, being dropped into different situations at various events, and having to figure it out. They’re both very adaptable and knowledgeable.”

Ogilvie’s impending marriage to Marine 1st Lt. Mike Lamb also carried weight in the decision-making process, Kovac adds. “Having gone through tours to Bosnia and Kosovo myself, I knew that these types of trips really open your eyes in wonderful ways. I imagined this shared experience would help tie Ariel and Mike together. Also, being able to tell the soldiers in Iraq that her fiancÂŽ was in the Marines would be a nice connection.”

The Raiders organization has had a lengthy history of supporting the military. Kovac often sends members of the cheerleading team to disabled veterans’ events and to VA hospitals throughout the state, and the football team regularly hosts active and retired military on the sidelines at games. Just prior to the Iraq trip, Shams joined four other Raiderettes at Camp Pendleton, where they performed for 1,000 soldiers about to be deployed to the Middle East.

“We all get hooked on these events,” Kovac says. “Once you do something with the service personnel, you just want to do more.”

This year’s Iraq tour was orchestrated by the marketing firm Pro Sports MVP, which stages promotional programs and events featuring entertainment and sports celebrities. Along with the Raiderettes, members of several NFL teams made the journey to Iraq. For nine days, the players and cheerleaders toured bases and points of interest in the Middle Eastern war zone, doing a number of meet-and-greets and participating in several special events. Shams says their reception was enthusiastic, from the highest-ranking brass on down.

“We met with Maj. Gen. Ray Odierno, who’s in charge of the 4th Infantry Division in Baghdad; he reports directly to Gen. Petraeus, and was appointed by the President. He took the time to thank us for coming,” Shams notes.

Odierno also presented each visitor with a special commemorative coin, a fact that Shams says will come in handy should she ever happen to share an adult beverage with a member of the military. “The custom is that if someone pulls out a coin and challenges you, and you don’t have a coin or theirs outranks yours, you have to buy everyone a round,” explains Shams. “But if yours outranks theirs, they have to buy a round. I think each of us now has a coin that outranks 99 percent of all coins.”

Shams adds that it was a heady experience to leaf through the guest book the cheerleaders were asked to sign in Basra. Following tea with Maj. Gen. Andy Salmon, commander of British forces in the city, she and Ogilvie inscribed their signatures in the book. “Then we turned the page back and saw that [British Prime Minister] Gordon Brown had just signed. That was definitely one of the highlights of the tour,” says Shams.

The Los Gatans’ arrival “in-country” coincided with Iraq’s recent elections. Though the event went off peacefully, the Raiderettes’ military escort opted to keep them out of the way of any potential unrest.

“After we landed in Kuwait, we stayed at Camp Arifjan for three days during the election,” Shams says. “From then on, our itinerary was sort of decided upon on a daily basis.”

That schedule included daily meals and many hours spent chatting with the troops about their experiences. Shams and Ogilvie also took part in a re-enlistment ceremony, holding the American flag while military personnel signed on for additional tours of duty. Traveling between bases, their modes of transportation included Blackhawk and Apache helicopters, as well as a C-130 transport plane. They also went for a spin in an MRAP (Mine-Resistant Ambush Protection) vehicle, which is designed to survive roadside bombs.

Super Bowl Sunday found the Raiderettes watching the game with the men and women in uniform in Kuwait. Given the time difference, the game’s live telecast presented some logistical challenges. “We slept until 10 p.m., then got dressed and went out to the base,” says Shams. “The game started at 2 a.m. Kuwait time; it was over about 6:30, then we had breakfast and caught a helicopter for Camp Bucca in Iraq … and we were up until 10 p.m. that night. We were pretty exhausted. But the excitement of being on the trip, and knowing we were there to increase the soldiers’ morale, really kept us going.”

Once at Camp Bucca, where the cheerleaders were outfitted with the protective vests and helmets, Ogilvie says she was surprised at the friendliness of the environment. Located on the Iraq-Kuwait border, the facility serves as a prison for some 18,000 military detainees.

“It’s a very simple setting, but it’s very intimate,” says Ogilvie. “The group that took us around was very close-knit; we could tell by how they interacted with each other. We got a great feeling from them and really bonded with them. I actually cried when we flew away.”

Out of respect for the conventions of Middle Eastern culture, Shams and her colleagues left their regular cheerleading costumes at home. “We dressed very conservatively the whole time we were there, mostly in jeans,” Ogilvie says. “We also wore long-sleeved under-armor shirts, and T-shirts provided by Pro MVP.”

Despite the presence of uniformed troops — both American and Iraqi — carrying weapons of various descriptions, neither Ogilvie nor Shams say they felt afraid. Both were happy to entrust their safety to their escorts, and report that they were protected quite rigorously. Still, there were a few instances that reminded the pair that they weren’t exactly in Kansas anymore.

“At one point I felt a little jittery: We were out on the Green Zone, in an area that’s run by the Iraqi military, and we were swarmed by their troops,” Ogilvie says. “Another time we were staying in a hotel in Baghdad, right across from Saddam Hussein’s Al Faw Palace. I sat in a chair that was given to him by [late Palestinian President] Yasser Arafat. I definitely got a creepy feeling, being around things that used to belong to Hussein. But our escorts knew the best ways to keep us safe, and we basically did what they told us to do and we were fine.”

What led the Los Gatans to trade comfort zone for war zone? Says Ogilvie, a Los Gatos native and graduate of Los Gatos High School: “We’re in this beautiful`bubble’ in this town. I wanted to have a more authentic idea of what the world is like. When we got there, the military really took the time to educate us about their mission, they gave us the history of the bases, and helped us to understand why they’re there. I feel like I have a much clearer idea of what’s going on now.”

Adds Shams, “The soldiers were so appreciative of us taking the time to visit them. A lot of the time they think that no one remembers they’re there.”

Given their cover-girl looks and figures (not to mention the outfits they wear on game day), it would be far too simple to dismiss “Football’s Fabulous Females” as stereotypically vapid vessels. Not so fast: Shams, a graduate of Murray State University in her home state of Kentucky, is a sales and marketing executive for a line of skin-care products and antioxidant supplements, is a former member of the Northern California Women’s Hockey League and is active in several organizations dedicated to fighting breast cancer. Her personal life is active as well, as wife to Saratoga native and Sereno Group sales executive Ryan Iwanaga and stepmom to Iwanaga’s 11-year-daughter.

Ogilvie, a graduate of UC-Santa Barbara, where she was on the dean’s list, is pursuing a doctorate in clinical psychology at Argosy University in San Francisco. After earning her Ph.D., Ogilvie hopes to work with underserved children in the Bay Area. For the near term she’ll be enjoying some welcome time with her future husband: After 12 years with the Marines and several tours of duty throughout the Middle East, including Afghanistan and Kosovo, Lamb will receive a medical discharge next month.

The cheerleaders’ achievements come as little surprise to Kovac, who herself holds a master’s degree in international business. As the Raiderettes’ chief choreographer for the past 13 years, and having served as the squad’s director since 2004, Kovac is never satisfied with merely adding another pretty face to the lineup.

“When a young woman auditions, which everyone has to do every year — even those who are currently on the squad — I look carefully at every application,” says Kovac. “I insist that a Raiderette must either be in school full time or hold down a full-time job. A few are moms, and if they’re doing that, more power to them. I want everyone to be fully engaged in some way, because they have to be strong role models for youths.

“Anyone can put on makeup and do their hair. What’s important is what’s on the inside.”

While they consider where their travels will lead them next, Shams and Ogilvie will both be taking part in the Raiderettes’ April 19 tryouts. Shams says the process is stressful for Iwanaga each season.

“He’ll call me on the day we’re supposed to hear whether we made it or not, and tell me that he’s pacing up and down and can’t focus,” Shams laughs. “He’s a huge football fan, and he also knows how hard I’ve worked to get here. I didn’t make it onto the team until my third try.”

Ogilvie, who says she rarely feels fear, admits that the process of auditioning is always daunting. But if she were asked to retire her pom-poms after this season, it appears that the Sunday afternoon lineup wouldn’t be the biggest thing she’d miss.

“It’s definitely cool being a cheerleader, because you have opportunities to travel and do things you’d never do otherwise,” she says. “But having the chance to support our troops was really an incredible experience.”

Raiderette auditions will be held April 19 at Club One in Oakland. Interested candidates can visit www.raiders.com/Raiderettes.

Raiderette Travel Diary: Japan

Raiderette Cole’s Visit to Japan
February 24, 2009
Raiders.com

* Video interview with Raiderette Cole *

Recently, veteran Raiderette Cole had the opportunity, along with seven other NFL cheerleaders, to visit Japan and work with NFL Japan on several initiatives and awareness campaigns with regard to NFL football. Cole took time out to chronicle her experiences. Also, Raiders.com’s Jeanette Thompson had a chance to sit down with Cole for a one-on-one video interview upon Cole’s return from Japan.

By Raiderette Cole

This is my very first time traveling to Japan, and I am so honored to be representing the NFL, and the Oakland Raiders on this tour. Thank you for inviting me to share my experience with the Raider Nation.

I met with all the team representatives that will be participating in the tour, and Maria Giannini, the director of E2k entertainment production company, at San Francisco International Airport. The ladies I went on tour with included Lauren – San Francisco 49ers; Lindsay – New England Patriots; Melanie – Seattle Seahawks; Fabiola – Miami Dolphins; Kazuyo – NY Jets; Marisa – San Diego Chargers; and Lauren – Philadelphia Eagles. Lauren, from the Eagles however, arrived later than the rest of us due to the playoffs.

I was very fortunate to sit next to such a great couple on my flight over to Japan. Americans Mary and Mark have lived in Japan for over 25 years. They were so generous to share details about the Japanese culture. They explained the currency, or the “yen” rather. I’ve never seen such a more beautiful currency than the Yen.

The 13-hour flight flew by because I was in such great company. We deplaned, hopped on a charter bus and headed to our hotel, The New Otani, which is gorgeous! We checked into our rooms and walked to a nearby local restaurant to eat our first Japanese-style meal. We had to take off our shoes to enter, and they gave us lockers to store our things. Kazuio, with the Jets, is originally from Tokyo, Japan. So she is very familiar with the area and more importantly she was able to communicate for all of us because she speaks fluent Japanese. We are all so grateful she is here because she is teaching us so much. We couldn’t have asked for better hands-on education. We have such a busy agenda coming up, so we went back to our rooms to get some sleep.

Day 1:
We all met at the top of The New Otani Tower for breakfast, and a kick off meeting with the team from NFL Japan. We learned, in more detail, about what is to be expected of us on this trip and the messages they really want us to communicate to gain a larger fan base here in Japan. Basically our mission was to communicate in our interviews key points about NFL football as if we were explaining the sport to someone for the very first time. We are introducing the sport and motivating them to tune in [to NFL football].

After our meeting we went straight to the studio and got to work. I led the team through a group stretch and then we practiced three sideline routines together. We had already learned the material via DVD prior to our departure. So when we got together it was basically cleaning the routines, formations, and just learning to dance together, as we all come from different teams, with different styles. Everyone was so professional, and prepared that practice went by quickly. We broke for lunch and then traveled by subway into the city where we were able to explore and sightsee a bit. When we returned to the hotel Lauren from the Eagles had arrived. She was my roommate for the remainder of the trip. We all went to Trader Vics for dinner, and quickly got ready for our first performance together. “Sporto” is the highest rated sports program on Fuji TV. It was a LIVE appearance, and it airs at midnight, which seems late for the most popular sports show, and is really late for us because we are still adjusting to the time difference, and have jet lag. However we managed to put on a great show, which consisted of one dance performance to Christina Aguilera’s “Keeps getting Better,” and an interview session with us as a group. We got back to the hotel around 1:00 a.m. to get some sleep.

Day 2:
Up at 6:30 a.m., and at 8 a.m. we had a quick group breakfast at the hotel then we got on our official NFL Japan Tour bus. We headed to the “Star Maker Studios” in Shiba, for a photo shoot. This was an extra special shoot because we were all posing in our team identified uniforms together for our “Team Photo Card.” This photo card will be used to sign autographs, and is given to the fans at our appearances.

Immediately after the shoot we went back to the hotel to practice. From practice we went to the Yokota Air Base. At this appearance we had to perform our solo introduction, all three sideline dance routines, and a trivia session with the audience. Each cheerleader made up two questions to ask the audience, one question was to be a difficult question, and the second to be easy. My difficult trivia question was a historical one, what is the name of the first Raider player ever to be inducted into Pro Football Hall of Fame? Answer, my favorite, Jim Otto. My easy trivia question was who is the owner of The Oakland Raiders? Answer, Al Davis, of course (too easy). We then followed up this event with an autograph session and photo session. Then we went back to the hotel to change and we went to Zen in Roppongi for an amazing sushi dinner.

Day 3:
022409 Cole performs with NFL cheerleadersUp at 6 a.m., 8 a.m. group breakfast at the New Otani, immediately followed by a dance rehearsal for about an hour. Then we loaded up our tour bus and headed to Venus Fort, Odaiba for the event I have been looking forward to most, The NFL Cheer Challenge 2009. This event was such a special event because the Japanese dance teams were to compete, and we were to judge the competition. Over 200 fans showed up for this event. The competition consisted of teams with ages that range from 4 to 19. The performances were amazing, high energy, and great choreography, and technique. I especially enjoyed the younger girls, they were so cute, and we all were so impressed with how they managed to retain all the material for their dance routines. There were two awards given out, and the competition was fierce. We then performed with Q and A session and interview to follow.

Then we walked back to Fuji TV for “Mezamashi,” another TV appearance, this a morning show. We were all interviewed regarding our experience in Japan, our experience as NFL cheerleaders, and of course the Super Bowl. From there we went NTV which stands for Nittelle Television. NTV is the #1 watch network in Japan. The program we were on is “Urugusa” which is the #1 sports program in Japan, and we performed again LIVE at midnight. On this show we performed “Just Dance” by Lady Gaga, followed by an interview. This was a long, fun and productive day.

Day 4:
022409 Cole performs on Japanese TVOur first event was a viewing party at a western-style restaurant, where we mingled with the 100 plus fans that showed, signed autographs on our photo cards, and met with the executives for Coors Light Japan. This event ended with follow up interview for a behind-the-scenes segment they will be using for NFL Japan.com.

After this event we freshened up and went to Dentsu, Japan’s #1 Advertising Agency. This was not on our original Itinerary, this was an added special meeting because of all our exposure, the Dentsu executives invited us for a round-table meeting, Very intense. We introduced ourselves, answered questions regarding our respective teams, the Super Bowl, and our experience in Japan. This was a very exciting meeting, intense, but exciting because Dentsu is a very powerful company and can give NFL Japan top exposure.

After our meeting we walked to NTV studios for another LIVE performance on “Real Time.” Then we went to the TV shooting of “NFL Club.” We filmed this segment on location at “Ukaitei” restaurant. The setting was a traditional Japanese-style dinning and featured real authentic Japanese cuisine. We were to eat and enjoy the meal that is prepared for us, as we are being interviewed as guests on the show. Rather unusual setting, however delicious and fun. Nachi Abe joined us as a surprise guest. He is an ex-NFL football player with experience with NFL Europa and is now in broadcasting in Japan.

Then we went back to NTV studios for our usual midnight LIVE appearance but this time on “News Zero.” Were we a featured on the sports corner of the program. We performed our solo routines, followed by interviews. Then we went right back to the hotel to rest a bit before our next appearance.

Day 5:
022409 Cole and cheerleaders gets ready for video shootUp at 4:00 a.m., call time 5 a.m. We headed back to NTV studios for an early morning show called “Zoom-In Super.” This show is equal to “Good Morning America” in the United States.

IT WAS FREEZING! They had us perform outside. They gave us huge down jackets and coffee to stay warm. We took our coats off literally seconds before our performance. Immediately after our performances the hosts of the show interviewed us as we shivered in our uniforms. At least I have sleeves, if you watch the clip Fabiola from Miami is shivering uncontrollably. We then wrapped up the show, joining the hosts say their famous catch phrase, “Zoom-In”

We went back to the hotel to rest for a bit, because we only had three hours sleep the night before. After resting we jumped on our tour bus, with our NFL entourage and went to Asakusa, Harajuku for some sightseeing and shopping on the Takeshita Dori street. This is where we were able to get our friends, family, and teammates souvenir gifts. We visited the Temple, and were blessed by the smoke with health, wealth and happiness.

Later that day we arrived in Shibuya for a quick dance rehearsal, and changed for our next performance, which was actually my favorite performance of our tour. This event was called “The NFL Night Special.” This was a talk show/ performance/ Super Bowl trivia/ Live event. The venue had a nightclub feel with great lighting, and was sold out with a capacity of 200. We performed all three dance routines. We had a Q and A segment. Then the award-winning dancers form the Cheer Challenge performed. We did a raffle drawing for prizes (team autographed footballs and t-shirts). Then we had our challenge, The Super Bowl Trivia Challenge. Audience members were selected at random to form a team and they were to compete with us! It was a close match. However they won by only one point, they were very knowledgeable. We ended this event with a photo session. After the event we shot a quick commercial teaser for “Sporto Ladies Day.” Then we ate at the Hard Rock Cafe Tokyo, for well-deserved American-style burgers!

Day 6:
022409 Cole in JapanUp at 7:30 a.m., 9 a.m. group breakfast. It was starting to sink in that our trip was coming to an end. We all started to get a little sad because this was our final day, and final performance. We got on our tour bus and went to J-POP cafe in Shibuya. The TV shooting for NHK’s “Best Sports” show. We performed one final dance routine, to “Keeps Getting Better,” which was so fitting because we had all gotten better, and each of us had grown so much from this experience. From traveling to Japan, to celebrating our NFL, to sharing what we are a part of in our individual organizations, and celebrating our communities. It made me feel so proud to be an NFL cheerleader, and justified my role as a role model within our community and as an ambassador for our organization.

That evening we had a farewell dinner at the famous restaurant Nobo. NFL Japan presented us with a very special necklace which I found to be so generous and thoughtful. If there is one thing I could expose to you all about the Japanese culture, it is that the people are so polite, kind, and generous. We went out that evening and explored the night club scene in Tokyo. Interestingly enough, they all play American music!

Day 7:
We said our goodbye’s to the NFL Japan crew, which took such great care of us. We exchanged email addresses and contact information with all the members of the tour, and I slept the entire plane ride home.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank The Oakland Raiders, Karen Kovac, Maria Giannini, E2k entertainment, Jiro San, NFL Japan, and the NFL for this opportunity. I feel so blessed to be able to live out my dream of being an NFL cheerleader. This is an experience I will cherish because it validated my purpose in this great sport we are all so passionate about, and my contribution as an ambassador for our organization.

Many Cheers!
Cole

Eagles Cheerleader’s NFL Japan Blog

Philadelphia Eagles Cheerleader Lauren recently returned from a trip to Japan, sponsored by NFL Japan. Read all about her trip and view her photos on the Eagles website.

Buffalo Jills Take Over Saddam’s Palace

Freelance photo journalist Julie Dermansky was recently on assignment in Iraq, and discovered she was bunking across the hall from the Buffalo Jills, who were on a goodwill tour through the region. Dermansky wrote about it on her blog. (Photos is also from her blog)