COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. The national and international spotlight was turned on ProRodeo on Oct. 9 when NATO defense ministers and ambassadors from 36 countries and their entourage of nearly 600 converged on the ProRodeo Hall of Fame.
The ministers, along with delegates from seven other NATO-invited countries, were treated to cocktails and dinner, self-guided tours of the Hall of Fame and an exhibition rodeo at the Hall's outdoor arena. The local Pikes Peak Range Riders marched into the arena before the rodeo carrying the flags of each of the NATO countries.
NATO, created in 1949, is an alliance of 19 countries from North American and Europe. The fundamental role of NATO is to safeguard the freedom of its member countries by political and military means. The alliance provided frontline defense against the spread of communism after World War II. Since the fall of communism, it has tackled other pressing issues, such as ethnic warfare in the Balkans. Many NATO countries provided aid for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
The international dignitaries were in Colorado Springs last week discussing some of the major issues of the day, primarily the alliance's strategy and response to future potential terrorist threats.
Earlier in the week, PRCA Commissioner Steven J. Hatchell presented cowboy hats to U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson and U.S. Gen. Richard Meyers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Rumsfeld, Hatchell said, was delighted with the gift and told him at the local gathering that he'd once ridden a bull in 1948, and that he even tried his hand as a bullfighter and barrelman. "He's a big fan of rodeo," Hatchell said. "You could tell he really enjoyed the gift and our gesture of Western good will."
In the Hall of Fame's outdoor garden area, the NATO community and local civic leaders enjoyed a harvest-moon night that featured a Western theme and Pikes Peak as a magnificent backdrop. Live music, rodeo and all that the Hall of Fame has to offer was taken in by the high-profile delegation.
All the NATO delegates donned cowboy hats and scarves that featured the NATO flags. Special lights were brought in and a 30-foot-high wall was erected to keep the reception private.
"Our friends in the United States and abroad thoroughly enjoyed their experience here tonight," Hatchell said. "They were truly impressed with our sport and how we've portrayed our heroes in the Hall. It was a memorable night for them, I believe, and we certainly won some more rodeo fans across the world."
Before dinner, Hatchell thanked the delegation for coming and poked a little fun at Rumsfeld.
"One of the things we do at ProRodeo is fine cowboys if they don't do the right things," Hatchell said. "Mr. Rumsfeld was supposed to ride a bull and didn't show up. All those in favor of a $250 fine for Mr. Rumsfeld, say aye. That fine will be published on our Web site and in our magazine, so look for that."
Other dignitaries included U.S. Congressman Joel Hefley, Air Force Gen. Ralph Eberhard (leader of the North American Air Defense Command) and El Pomar President Bill Hybl. PRCA Board members Mike Cervi and Bennie Beutler also took part in the evening's ceremony.
Pat Hildebrand, director and curator of the Hall of Fame, said Western culture still maintains a prominent place in the minds and hearts of those around the world.
"There will always be that mystery and my personal belief is that the cowboy is the No. 1 symbol of America around the world," Hildebrand said. "From what I've seen, these guys are excited about being here."
Last year, ProRodeo was featured on an international stage when the best cowboys in the United States and Canada squared off during the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. The two countries participated in the Command Performance Rodeo in nearby Farmington, Utah, with the United States prevailing.