Addie Zinone was at work producing a segment for “Access Hollywood” when she got the call that she was being deployed to Iraq. She had never been outside of the US before and now she was going to one of the most dangerous places on the planet wearing the uniform of a United States soldier. “Everyone in my life thought I was crazy when I enlisted in the Army,” Addie says. “I was a college graduate with a good job and what appeared to be this exciting life… but I was looking for something else. I wanted to be part of an entity greater than myself.” Addie knew she had made the right decision by the time she finished basic training. “I loved the discipline, the athleticism and the camaraderie of basic training,” she remembers. “I felt good about myself there.”
Addie has since served two tours in Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom and recently re-enlisted for another six years of duty. It was between her tours in Iraq that Addie met her husband Greg. One afternoon while telling Greg (who is not in the military) what life is like on an overseas military base, Addie mentioned that, in a typical day, “you get up, you work out, you chow, you go back to your barracks and you spend whatever down time you have playing video games.” Greg, a former college football player, joked that soldiers and professional athletes had a lot in common – they are young, they work under a lot of pressure and they spend their down time playing hours and hours of video games. Addie and Greg talked about how much fun it would be to pit deployed troops against professional athletes in head-to-head video game challenges. From that conversation, “Pro vs. GI Joe” was born.
Pro vs GI Joe (provsgijoe.org) uses the Internet, webcams and gaming consoles to set up real-time gaming competitions between US troops deployed overseas and professional athletes. The goal of the organization (which is partnered with the USO) is to reward the men and women who serve in the armed forces and, as Addie puts it, “to let them blow off steam and have some fun.” Soldiers’ family members are connected to the event by partner Air Tran Airways, which flies family members to the tournaments free-of-charge. “It’s pretty cool to see troops from Philadelphia play Madden NFL against some of the Philadelphia Eagles,” Addie says. “And even though these players are thousands of miles apart, they are trash-talking each other as if they were sitting in the same living room.” The focus of the events is on the troops – not the Pros. “Some of the athletes think they are going to a typical celebrity appearance but when they get to the event, you see it hit them that the real heroes are the men and women in uniform.” For the troops’ families, getting to see their loved ones via webcams provides a respite from the worry of having a loved one stationed overseas. “For the two hours I watched my son up on that screen playing video games, I knew exactly where he was and that he was safe,” said a soldier’s mom who attended a recent event.
As if running a business and being a soldier wasn’t enough to keep Addie busy, she and Greg welcomed son Hudson into their lives last May. “It’s not easy balancing all of my commitments,” Addie says. For tunately, some of the skills she learned in the Army have come in handy as a new mom. “I function well with very little sleep; I like following a routine; and each morning when I wake up, I set a goal to be the best mom I can be.”
When asked about the possibility of a long deployment away from home, Addie gets reflective. “It would be harder to leave now because I have a son. But being away reminds me of the incredible sacrifices that soldiers make every day.” She adds, “I want Hudson to be proud of his mom – to see me fulfilling my commitments, serving the greater good and doing something that makes me happy. I’m a good soldier,” she says, “And I think I’m a pretty cool mom too.”
Chris Croll was a corporate executive for 15 years before putting her career on hold to stay home with her two sons. Five years later, she is beginning her ‘third act’ as a professional writer. WriterCroll@gmail.com.