The excitement was palpable among the troops of Fort Hood on Tuesday as the World Wrestling Entertainment Superstars took the day to hang out with soldiers and their families before filming the 16th annual “Tribute to the Troops” on post.

The wrestlers, including legendary Hall of Famers Ric Flair and Kurt Angle and rising Superstar Mojo Rawley, kicked off the day early by joining the troops for physical training before sitting down to have breakfast with the troops.

“This is great — I haven’t worked out yet today, so this is right up my alley,” said Rawley. “This is actually the style of training I like to do myself, so this is perfect. I’m breathing a little heavy, which is OK, but so are they. It’s good to be working out with them this morning and having a little fun.”

One of the physical activities included dragging a long, heavy chain while running sprints — an event which stumbled one soldier who had the opportunity to race Rawley.

“I went up against Mojo Rawley and he kicked my butt — he whipped me pretty good,” said Spc. Damani Scott, a soldier with Headquarters and Service Company, Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division. “I just wished I had not have fallen; it would have been a little bit better. It was a nice experience, though.”

The opportunity to mingle with the troops is a patriotic experience, said Angle, who won the gold medal in wrestling during the 1996 Olympic Games.

“I want to say ‘thank you.’ I told every single one of them, ‘thank you for serving,’” he said. “To me, there’s nothing more rewarding than to do something like this for your country, to represent your country, to protect us. This is something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time ... I’d like to do it more often.”

According to the Fort Hood garrison commander, Col. Hank Perry, the tribute was a huge boost for morale.

“We have 36,000 soldiers here at Fort Hood, and to see a business come here, like the WWE, to pay tribute to our soldiers, says something not just about them but the entire organization who puts in their time and their resources to put on a spectacular event here for the soldiers,” he said.

The tribute gives each individual wrestler the opportunity to say “thank you” to the troops in person, said Flair. But the best thing?

“I guess it’s the fact they think we’re a big deal — it’s pretty rewarding, because obviously they are our heroes,” said “The Nature Boy,” who has been in the business since the mid-1970s. “For them to think of us as something special is very rewarding. God bless you and thank you for all you do. Good luck, stay safe and have the best holiday possible.”

As all the wrestlers gathered at one of the aircraft hangars on Hood Army Airfield for the taping of the tribute, which is scheduled to air on USA network on Dec. 20, the crowds of troops pouring in to watch grew to several hundred — all excited to make the taping of the show their “appointed place of duty.”

And when the first major match began, the hangar erupted into chants of “Ronda! Ronda!” as former Ultimate Fighting Championship fighter and actress Ronda Rousey stepped into the ring.

After the match, Rousey took the microphone to give her own personal message to the troops.

“Thank you for what you do,” she said. “You are the true heroes.” | 254-501-7554 | 254-501-7554

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