An overseas military unit will have a virtual reality hookup to Super Bowl LI in Houston on Sunday to make the troops feel as if they're in the stands, the Pentagon said Thursday.
The identity of the unit is being kept secret until game time to make the experience a surprise, officials said. The virtual reality hardware will have a direct line to Houston, and "the service members will feel as if they are actually at the game," said Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman.
A 90-second video produced from footage of the troops watching the game with virtual reality will air immediately after the game and before the presentation of the winner's trophy, Davis said.
Before the game and just prior to the coin toss, the Air Force Thunderbirds will perform a flyover, and the Military District of Washington color guard and drummers will participate in the National Anthem.
In addition, both the Atlanta Falcons and the New England Patriots have requested that service members waving flags precede them as they run onto the field, Davis said.
There was no estimate available for the cost of the military participation at the Super Bowl, but Davis said that the expense of the Thunderbirds flyover would come out of the demonstration squadron's budget. "It's an appropriate use of their capabilities," he said.
Davis stressed that the Defense Department is not paying the National Football League or the teams to participate at the game.
In 2015, Arizona Republican Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake disclosed in a lengthy report that the DoD had paid out more than $6 million over previous years to professional sports teams to honor the military at events.
"Given the immense sacrifices made by our service members, it seems more appropriate that any organization with a genuine interest in honoring them, and deriving public credit as a result, should do so at its own expense and not at that of the American taxpayer," the report said.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.