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Superstars and Divas give back on NBC’s ‘WWE Tribute to the Troops’

Pro wrestler Mike “The Miz” Mizanin goes out of his way to provide memorable moments for troops heading into combat on “WWE Tribute to the Troops,” but sometimes they do the same for him.

One happened several years ago when he was doing meet-and-greets and autograph signings while over in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“One of the sergeants came up to me,” recalls Mizanin, a 34-year-old Cleveland-area native, “and said, ‘Hey, this is a picture of you and my kid.’ And it was a baby. And he goes, ‘You met my kid before I did.’ And I was like, ‘What?’ Like that just blew me away and it’s something I’ll take with me for the rest of my life, that he had a picture of me and his baby and I met his baby before he did.”

The hourlong special, which airs Saturday on NBC, chronicles a recent visit by WWE Superstars (of which Mizanin is one) and Divas in which they spent two days at Fort Benning, Ga., meeting and greeting active Army personnel and their families. It also highlights WWE’s annual goodwill tour overseas, where the wrestlers perform, and includes messages from NBCUniversal performers and personalities including Seth Meyers, Andy Cohen, Katherine Heigl, Lester Holt, Padma Lakshmi, Tom Brokaw, Carson Daly and Gwen Stefani. Florida Georgia Line will also perform.

Saying “we’re taking right up where Bob Hope left off,” Mizanin calls his experience entertaining the troops “incredible” and is amazed at the conditions they must endure.

“You don’t realize the sacrifice that our armed forces really go through until you actually go over there and see it,” he says. “I watched these kids – and I will says kids because these are 18-, 19-year-old kids basically putting their lives on the line for our freedom. And not only are they doing that, but going to these camps, these camps didn’t have any running water. I mean, can you imagine? You don’t realize what a privilege it is to actually have running water until you don’t have it.”

He’s similarly amazed by how they face danger as a matter-of-fact part of their lives.

“I was talking to this guy,” Mizanin recalls, “and we were in one of the armored vehicles and there was kind of a big, orange stick and it was just out of place out in front of the armored vehicle. And I was like, ‘What is that orange thing for?’ And he goes, ‘Oh, it blows up the mine before it blows us up.’ And I go, ‘Are you kidding me?’ And he goes, ‘No.’ I go, ‘Does this ever happen?’ He says, ‘Yeah, it happened yesterday.’

“And it was just like talking,” he continues. “It wasn’t like, ‘Dude, it happened yesterday. You have no idea!’ It was just like, ‘Oh yeah, it happened yesterday,’ like this happens all the time, like it’s a daily thing. …

“That’s something you don’t have to deal with here in the United States, and we’re thankful for that because of what they do over there for us.”