Photo gallery: Manning, Schilling lead sports-themed six-nation USO tour

Peyton Manning signs an autograph for a sailor on the aircraft carrier John C. Stennis on Thursday while visiting with a USO tour. Manning is wearing a Stennis ball cap. He’s not wearing a Navy working uniform, though, so it’s OK. (Navy photo by MC3 Chelsy Alamina)

Appearances in six nations. A stop on a deployed aircraft carrier at sea. A trip to the war zone. A visit with wounded heroes.

Not bad for a week’s work. But as Indianapolis Colts fans know (and Denver Broncos fans are finding out), it’s wise to expect the best when Peyton Manning gets involved.

The NFL quarterback — a four-time Most Valuable Player and the MVP of Super Bowl XLI who’s on the express train to the Hall of Fame — led a delegation of athletes on a USO tour last week, beginning at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center Bethesda, Md., before making stops in Europe, aboard the carrier John C. Stennis and in Afghanistan. Joining Manning were pitching legend Curt Schilling, NFL wideouts Austin Colle and Vincent Jackson, and other distinguished guests (Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders, “American Idol” performers and the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, possibly in order of average applause level following their introduction).

It was Manning’s first tour, but judging by the comments he made to the troops throughout the journey, it might not be his last.

“It’s a pleasure to be here and I just can’t thank you guys enough for what you do to protect our country,” Manning said aboard Stennis on March 1. “It truly makes me proud to be an American.”

Read more words from Manning and other tour-makers here, a Defense Department piece from the beginning of the tour here, and a recap by the Peyback Foundation, one of Manning’s charity efforts, here. And get the basics from our good friends at Flightlines here.

Got all those links? Sick of reading? In that case, click below for some photos from the USO, DoD and other sources. Special thanks to Mass Communications Specialist 1st Class (AW/EXW) of Naval Support Activity Naples, Italy, who sent a handful of his shots from the tour’s Feb. 26 visit to his base. Click on the images for larger pics.