When it comes to fighting for our nation’s freedoms, the men and women of the United States armed forces know no equal. And when it comes to honoring those same men and women, there is one entertainment company that continually fights to honor, aid, and pay tribute to their heroism.
World Wrestling Entertainment military outreach programs now range from “Tribute to the Troops” shows in which live-action matches are performed in Iraq, Afghanistan, or bases throughout the U.S., to programs for youth members of the National Guard, to partnerships that create job opportunities for veterans and their spouses. WWE also provides smaller scale perks. There are the free tickets provided to all military personnel who wish to attend live events within the U.S., as well as free access to their pay-per-view events.
Former WWE World Heavyweight Champion Mark Henry, says that the “Tribute to the Troops” shows, while they get the most media play, are only a small part in the company’s military outreach.
Stars regularly visit military bases and hospitals such as the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Bethesda Naval Hospital, and they plan on making frequent trips to a new facility in San Antonio.
“We respect and love our soldiers for giving us the freedoms we have in this country,” Henry explains. “We’re trying to serve our country in a way, but it will never meet what they do for us.”
According to the WWE superstar, the competitive world of sports entertainment seeps into the group’s efforts. Aiding the men and women who serve our country becomes a competition. And that competitive nature starts at the top, with owner Vince McMahon.
“Vince is very competitive,” Henry explains. “He wants to do as much or more than any other professional sport or civic group.”
It isn’t just the four main military branches that get attention from the wrestling conglomerate.
Henry works on a team called the “Big Guns,” a group designed to work with the National Guard by touring the country speaking to students about career and fitness goals.
“We try not to leave them out because a lot of times they feel like they get the short end of the stick,” he reveals. “We’re very pro-Army National Guard.”
When asked of a particularly enjoyable memory from his work, Henry recalls a sergeant who had speculated what it would be like to have two guys his size clearing a path for the troops.
Henry does him one better.
“If you had two of me, the least of your worries would be the insurgents.”
WWE doesn’t stop with military outreach, however. Henry is an integral figure in the WWE’s anti-bullying program, “Be a Star.” He has no problem admitting to having been bullied as a child.
“I wasn’t always 6′ 4” and 400 pounds,” he explains.
Aside from the Be a Star program, WWE is also engaged in urban outreach, literacy and after school programs, as well as numerous other community programs for children.
The biggest of those is Make-A-Wish. The foundation awarded John Cena its first-ever 300th Wish Award late last year, and many other WWE stars contribute their time to the charity. Henry gives Cena the most praise for his work with Make-A-Wish.
“John Cena has granted more wishes than anybody in history,” he admires. “He goes the extra mile … Cena should run for President for all he’s done on that front.”
The media tends to dig into the past when it comes to wrestling, only to reveal the negative aspects. The public doesn’t typically get to see such positive stories regarding WWE and their work on behalf of the military, children, or the community. Henry admits positive stories don’t really sell newspapers.
“We know what we do,” he says. “I don’t think anybody’s looking for a pat on the back for our efforts. We are 100% pro-our guys and girls in the military and could care less how the media portrays it.”