Cleveland Browns linebacker D'Qwell Jackson will join the NFL-USO tour along with five other current NFL players on a week-long visit to U.S. troops at military bases throughout the Middle East. This is the second straight year that a Cleveland Brown has taken part in the tour, as center Alex Mack was a member of the trip in 2012. In addition, tackle Joe Thomas traveled with the group in 2010.
"It's an honor to be a part of this USO tour," said Jackson. "I think it's a great experience and an opportunity to speak first-hand and show our gratitude to our military. What they do for our country is something special, and words can't express the appreciation that we have for the job that they do."
Along with Denver Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey, Tampa Bay Buccaneers guard Davin Joseph, Broncos linebacker Von Miller, Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith and Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, Jackson will travel to the Middle East to spend time with service members. This tour marks the first NFL-USO tour abroad for all the players.
Jackson has been active in the community locally, nationally and globally throughout his seven-year NFL career. He has been on mission trips to Sierra Leone in Africa and lent his support to Team Gleason, led by former New Orleans Saint Steve Gleason, to raise awareness for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). Locally, he founded the "Real Hope, Real Dreams" season ticket program which provides tickets, apparel and food at Browns games for the East Cleveland Neighborhood organization. He also led his teammates in sponsoring the club's Holiday Extravaganza event, which surprised 100 kids from the City of Cleveland Recreation Centers with holiday gifts.
Since being drafted by the Browns with the 34th overall selection of the 2006 NFL Draft, Jackson has started in 80 of the 81 games in which he has played. In his seven seasons, he has led the club in tackles on four occasions. In 2011, he returned to the field after missing 26 games over the course of the 2009 and 2010 seasons due to injury. That season, Jackson led the team and ranked second in the NFL in tackles (158) while setting a career-high in sacks (3.5) en route to being named the NFL Comeback Player of the Year by Peter King of Sports Illustrated. He was also selected as the team's Ed Block Courage Award recipient as well as being voted by the local media as the Browns 2011 Player of the Year. This past season, Jackson notched a team-leading 119 tackles, marking his fifth career 100+ tackle season. He served as one of three season-long team captains and was voted as a first alternate at middle linebacker for the AFC Pro Bowl squad.
The NFL and USO have organized overseas morale-building visits for more than 45 years. In 1966, the NFL teamed with the USO and became the first sports organization to send a group of players to Vietnam and other parts of Asia to demonstrate the league's support for America's troops. Since then, NFL icons including Terry Bradshaw, Larry Csonka, Franco Harris, Howie Long, Don Meredith, Lynn Swann and Johnny Unitas have visited troops on NFL-USO tours in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Iraq, Japan, Korea, Kuwait and Somalia.
Last year, the NFL and USO deployed players Alex Mack, Jason Baker, Dhani Jones, Takeo Spikes and Eric Winston overseas to boost the morale of service men and women. During the tour, the group visited more than five military bases in multiple countries throughout Southwest Asia.
In addition, current and former NFL coaches Bill Cowher, Leslie Frazier, Ben Kotwica and Eric Mangini spent July 4th in Afghanistan last year as part of the fourth annual NFL-USO Coaches tour to show their appreciation to service members.