|Dave Gatley / USO|
|After two days of begging, the players received camouflage uniforms, which they wore for the rest of the USO Tour.|
» Day 1: Arrival in Kuwait
» Day 2: Running into old friends
» Day 3: Planes, helicopters and automobiles
» Day 4: Meet-and-greet with soldiers
» Day 5: Largest gathering yet
» Day 6: Stranded by sand
The NFL is continuing this March its legacy of more than 40 years of sending players overseas to visit with U.S. military troops. The NFL's Director of Community Affairs, David Krichavsky, is accompanying four NFL players -- Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jared Allen, New York Giants linebacker Danny Clark, Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, and St. Louis Rams linebacker Will Witherspoon -- on a weeklong tour to U.S. military bases in Iraq and Kuwait. Following is Krichavsky's final blog:
Words always fall short of summarizing a weeklong NFL-USO Tour. Images probably do a better job, and hopefully you've had a chance to see many of the photos taken by ace USO photographer Dave Gatley.
This is how Jared Allen, Danny Clark, Larry Fitzgerald and Will Witherspoon approached this tour every step of the way: It was all about doing whatever they could to support the troops. This came so naturally to each of them, probably because of their military backgrounds and the appreciation for the Armed Forces.
|Dave Gatley / USO|
|The players took a V-22 Osprey vehicle, which converts from a helicopter to a fixed-wing craft while in flight, between bases in Western Iraq.|
» Photos: 2009 USO Tour
Each player did it in his own way. Larry did it with his megawatt smile and unassuming demeanor. Jared did it by always keeping things light and making sure everyone was laughing and having fun. And Danny and Will both did it by playing perfectly to the moment, joking with the rank and file when it was time to hang out with the troops but also by making very professional presentations to two-star generals when those opportunities arose.
One other point I think is important to make is how terrific a job our troops have done in Iraq. Having visited Anbar Province in 2007 on an NFL-USO Tour and again this year, I had the unique perspective of seeing the changes.
In 2007, our Marines in Anbar were actively engaged in combat. The atmosphere on every base was tense. When we visited base hospitals, they were filled with victims of IED attacks, gunshot wounds and worse.
During this trip, Anbar was quiet. The hospitals had no combat injuries that I can recall. Our Marines have evolved their mission from "fighting the enemy" to preparing Iraq for self-government. This is only possible because of the great work our entire military has done -- from our generals, who have shifted strategies, to the enlisted troops, who have executed order on the ground. All Americans should be proud of the work that our troops have done here, particularly in Western Iraq.
As the 2009 NFL-USO Tour comes to a close, it is necessary to thank those who made it possible. The USO, as always, is a terrific partner and an organization that continues to do extremely important work to support our troops all around the world every day. In particular, thanks to Dana DePaul and Jeff Harvey for doing all of the upfront legwork to produce the tour. Thanks also to Dave Gatley and my go-to USO tour manager, Jeff Anthony. I'm also very grateful to the escorts, Captain Monica Mahoney and the Department of the Armies' Leonard Lewis, who traveled with us through Kuwait and Iraq.
One of the things you'll notice in most of the photos from the second day of our tour is that the players were dressed in full military uniforms, from standard-issue boots to camouflage pants and shirts. This is not something that anyone on the tour encouraged, nor is it something that has happened on previous tours. The guys acquired the "camis" (camouflage uniforms) by being persistent and asking soldiers and Marines to help them out, and they found many generous servicemen along the way.
Initially, I thought this was all about looking cool and stylish -- and perhaps about having a unique souvenir to take home. But when the players wore the uniforms day after day, and I spoke to them about it, I learned it was more about substance. To them, there was no better way to show unity and support for the troops than to wear their attire -- just as passionate football fans come to games in their team's jersey. The four players were especially proud to wear U.S. Marine Corps uniforms because every base we visited prior to Al Asad (which holds all branches of the service) is a Marine installation.
The four NFL players not only were the stars of the tour but also the workhorses. Their days usually began around 6 a.m. and ended after midnight. Every minute they were awake, they were "on" -- signing autographs, snapping photographs and swapping stories with the troops. But being part of this tour wasn't a job for Jared, Danny, Larry and Will. They had fun every step of the way, ensuring that the troops had even more fun than they did.
Each of the players signed thousands of autographs over the course of our week in Iraq and Kuwait. But more importantly, they never declined to sign an autograph. I never even saw a moment of hesitation from one of them. For this, I commend and thank these four outstanding men, and I know a lot of people will join me in expressing these thanks.
And finally, my last thanks -- on behalf of the 2009 NFL-USO Tour -- must go to all the men and women in uniform serving us in Iraq, Kuwait and around the world. As the players said at every stop on our tour, "We are here because you are here." Our troops and their families make huge sacrifices to serve our country. The NFL will keep doing its part to honor your service and bring good cheer to you at home and abroad.
Get home safely and get home soon.