Soldiers and Ravens star make a `live connection'

Player, servicemen launch joint Microsoft-USO effort

December 10, 2003|By Rona Kobell | Rona Kobell,SUN STAFF

The Ravens tight end and the Army specialist made a good team, trouncing their opponents as they navigated the Dolphins' field in Miami and throwing in some trash talk for good measure.

And when yesterday's game was over, Todd Heap shook Spc. Keith Perry's hand and watched the City College graduate walk away from the Xbox game console, toward the door of the USO International Gateway Lounge at Baltimore-Washington International Airport and onto a plane bound for Iraq.

Yesterday was the kickoff for Operation Live Connections, a joint venture between Microsoft's Xbox Live and USO service centers around the country to connect soldiers with their families and friends overseas.

Through a modem and broadband connection, families can stop in United Service Organizations lounges and play Xbox games with soldiers as far away as Germany and Korea - or use the game's headsets just to talk. In addition, on Friday the USO is teaming with AT&T to offer free overseas phone calls from the BWI lounge.

Xbox Live, which allows players to square off against each other online, donated the system, which USO officials hooked up to a 60-inch television set at BWI.

Perry, who played with Heap against a two-man team from Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany that called itself "BrickHouse," was thankful for the donation.

Although Xbox is popular among members of the military in Iraq, hooking up live with soldiers there is difficult because of connection problems, an Xbox spokeswoman said.

Even without the benefit of a live connection, soldiers such as Spc. Gino Giberti say they love to play the games in Iraq.

"We dust it off and have Super Bowl tournaments right there in the tent. We'll have 40 guys, they'll all pick a team, and we'll play down to the last man," said Giberti, who, like the other soldiers at BWI yesterday, was returning to duty in Iraq after a brief leave in the United States.

Heap seemed to be enjoying the camaraderie and the competition as he and Perry beat the BrickHouse boys, 6-0.

"This is Todd Heap. I'm ready to go," the tight end bellowed into the mouthpiece on his headphones as he got into place for a round of the video game NFL Fever. "Are you going to be the Dolphins? Because I'm the Ravens."

The 23-year-old Reisterstown resident said he was glad he could do something for the troops before they left for Iraq.

"To be able to have this connection is a really cool thing," Heap said.

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