Gloversville native Ashley Rowback, a U.S. Marine lance corporal serving at Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan, got something to lift her spirits earlier this month - and she never could have predicted it.
She found herself on the receiving end of a pass from NFL quarterback Peyton Manning.
It happened March 1, when Rowback and roughly 3,000 other military personnel stationed at Camp Leatherneck were treated to a USO tour that featured Manning, former Major League Baseball pitcher Curt Schilling, NFL wide receivers Austin Collie and Vincent Jackson, two Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders and Ace Young from TV's "American Idol."
NFL quarterback Peyton Manning poses with U.S. Marine Ashley Rowback during a USO tour in Afghanistan on March 1. Manning threw Rowback a 35-yard completion at the event.
During the event, Manning got on stage and called out several names of service members in the crowd to catch some passes from him. Rowback's name was the last one called.
She had to run to the back of the crowd. Manning then threw her a 35-yard pass, and Rowback caught it.
In a blog Manning had on ESPN about the USO tour, he wrote, "Lance Cpl. Rowback, a female officer, made a nice catch on about a 35-yard post pattern. You might say, 'what's the big deal on that?' Well, the big deal is she caught it while carrying an M-16 rifle on her back. I am not sure even Marvin Harrison or Reggie Wayne could have done that. Certainly, another first for me on my list of completed passes."
Rowback described meeting the 2012-13 NFL Comeback Player of the Year as "one of the best days of my life."
"It was definitely an extreme morale booster for all the military members that were there," Rowback said. "It really makes you realize that Americans still appreciate what we do. Everyone was all smiles, and it makes you forget you're in a war zone for a couple of hours."
Rowback said she was able to talk with Manning for a few minutes at the show, and he thanked her for her service.
Rowback has been in the Marine Corps for a year and a half and was stationed in Cherry Point, N.C., before deployment.
She graduated from Gloversville High School in 2009 and attended Fulton-Montgomery Community College, receiving an associate degree in general studies. She then joined the Marine Corps.
Rowback said she was impressed by Manning and others in the USO tour.
"It amazed me to find out how much of a genuine person Manning is," Rowback said. "Even when his security was hounding him to leave and trying to pull him away, he stayed. He wanted to get as many pictures and signatures that he could. That was humbling to me. It is hard to grasp that they took the time to fly all the way over here just to spend three hours with us. It goes to show how much they respect and honor our troops."
She said Schilling made the soldiers say they hate the Yankees on video so he could show everyone. Schilling was a pitcher for the rival Boston Red Sox for many years.
Rowback said the USO show was a nice break from the routine in Afghanistan.
Describing her service there, she said, "You eventually get settled into a very nice routine: work, sleep, eat and work out. The hardest thing is dealing with attacks, and missing my family."
Rowback said three days before the USO tour, the base had an attack on its airfield. She said the enemy fired 12 mortars, three of which caused damage.
She said her family is worried about her being overseas, but they are somewhat used to it because her brother, Brandon, was in the Marines and was deployed to Iraq.
"I am very proud of my children," said Rowback's father, Bill Rowback. "They have a lot of respect for themselves, the people around them and our country."
He said he gets goosebumps thinking about his daughter getting to meet star athletes while overseas.
"To have Peyton Manning say that throwing a pass to my daughter wearing a rifle on her back is a first for him is really great, and I am so proud of her," Bill Rowback said.