What an experience!
What an experience our USO tour has been already, and we’re just getting started. After beginning our tour in Qatar, we left Thursday morning for a five-hour flight on a C-130 military transport. The cockpit on this plane was much larger than the plane we checked out in Qatar—this one, I could actually fit in! I took advantage of the chance to ride in the cockpit for most of the trip. I loved seeing the pilots-eye-views of the landscape.
Our trip took us to Forward Operating Base (FOB) Marmal in Afghanistan, where we took a quick tour and did a meet and greet with the troops. Again, it’s such an honor to be able to meet the men and women who serve our country. They are thanking us for making the trip, when at the same time we are thanking them for their service. It’s very humbling to see everything they do for us.
By the way, I keep referring to ‘we’ in our travels, so I need to introduce my NFL traveling partners on this trip: former Steeler running back Merrill Hoge, now with ESPN, is joining us, along with former NFL linebacker and executive Matt Millen, who’s also back in the broadcast booth. Millen got a nice surprise here: His son, Marcus is an Army first lieutenant serving in Afghanistan, and Marcus was able to travel to meet his dad during one of our stops.
Friday morning, we left FOB Marmal on Black Hawk helicopters for FOB Ghormach, which is in a very secluded area of the country. It’s very rare for the troops here to get visitors and because of that they are a very close group. Then it was back in the helicopters for a stop at FOB Griffin, then another short trip to FOB Spann. Each time we stopped at one of the bases, we toured their facilities then had a meet and greet, signed autographs and took pictures. And at each stop, we wanted to hear their stories, and they wanted to hear about the NFL. So far, the hot topic is the upcoming draft!
And you never know who you’ll run into at these stops. At one of the FOBs I met a young man, named Mays, who is a 1997 graduate of Mason High School just north of Cincinnati and who lives about three minutes from my own home. At each visit, the troops have been so appreciative, especially at the bases in the remote areas. We always tell them how much we, and everybody back home, appreciate what they do for us.
Busy day, but it was so very rewarding. I am so blessed to be able to be on this tour. We’ll visit three or four more bases tomorrow, so I’ll tell you about them in my next blog. I expect the stories to be just as compelling and inspiring as the ones we’ve heard so far.
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