Not so long ago, military personnel stationed overseas penned letters to their loved ones at home and then waited anxiously for responses. The time elapsed could easily be weeks.
Now, technology and the Internet make communication simpler and "Pro vs. GI Joe" brings together the soldiers and their families.
They gathered on Tuesday at Redskins Park, an assortment of armed forces personnel from around the area, the Redskins players and –via Internet hookup – a contingent from the U.S. Army stationed in Qatar.
They visited over the Internet cameras, said their hellos and exchanged greetings. Then they squared off in spirited matchups of Guitar Hero, with children and spouses of those abroad playing with and against a number of Redskins via online gaming. The Redskins community relations department sponsored the gathering.
"I won," said a gleeful Tariq Moore, 11, of Severn, Md., whose dad, Capt. Kenneth Moore, competed from Qatar.
Playing the game, seeing his dad and getting to meet the Redskins gave Tariq a thrill.
"I'm glad I came," he said. "This is my favorite team."
Easing the pain of separation is the mission of "Pro vs. GI Joe." This enterprise is the brainchild of Addie and Greg Zinone. She's a staff sergeant in the Army reserve and has served two tours in Iraq. She was called up for that second tour just two months after she and Greg were married.
"Greg came up with the idea," Addie said. "He was just looking for a way to give back to the troops. I mentioned that the guys play video games and he said the athletes play video games and we hit the ground running."
They started this venture 2 ½ years ago and it has become a hit around the NFL. They've staged similar events to this one at 10 team venues, with another coming up in Philadelphia on Friday and the final stop in New Orleans on Dec. 1. They've also got an ESPN Zone nationwide tour beginning in January that will take them to Baltimore, Washington, D.C., New York, Anaheim and Chicago before they arrive in south Florida for the Super Bowl.
Between games of Guitar Hero, families took pictures with the players, enjoyed lunch and held their reunions.
"See you in a couple of months," Staff Sergeant John White said from Qatar to his wife Cynthia, son Nicholas, 9, and dad Gary Brown. White is from Fairfax, his dad (an Army veteran himself) from Ashburn, the home of the Redskins.
"He looks good," said Cynthia as she looked at the big-screen image of John, who has served in Iraq and is in his second tour in Qatar. He departed in July and is due back in January.
"We miss him a lot," his dad said. "We can't wait for him to come home. Him and the rest of them."
What a joy to see families reunited, if digitally and for only a few moments.
"It's often said the only thing harder than being a soldier is loving one," Addie Zinone said. "This is a way to make a connection."
A bunch of Redskins players came to the training facility on their day off to take part. Linebacker Chris Wilson played drums and sang. Rookie offensive lineman Edwin Williams searched desperately for a left-handed guitar "so I can show my prowess, like Jimi Hendrix." He also settled in behind the drums. Receiver Marko Mitchell and tight end Fred Davis worked the room, greeting the men and women in uniform. Coach Jim Zorn was a popular "get" for photos as well.
Wilson's cousin served in the Marine Corps, his aunt in the Navy. So these few hours on a Tuesday meant a lot to him.
"When you hear the national anthem at games, it puts things in perspective," he said. "Because of these soldiers, we get to have our lives and our careers."