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Chuck Pagano details USO tour: 'Puts everything in perspective'

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Coach Chuck Pagano came away from the USO tour in awe of U.S. soldiers. (Courtesy of Colts.com)


Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano went on an eight-day, seven-country, 24,501-mile USO tour this spring, visiting troops from Virginia to Diego Garcia to South Korea, landing on the deck of an aircraft carrier and flying in a helicopter over Kabul, Afghanistan. He was accompanied by, among others, Colts players Andrew Luck and Dwayne Allen. Luck's grandfather was a Marine Corps engineer who served in the Korean War, and he told Luck about USO tours that featured Bob Hope and Marilyn Monroe. Pagano called it the trip of a lifetime, and he even missed the start of free agency for it. Here is his story:

I met Admiral James Winnefeld, the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, my first year on the job at the Indy 500.

He tried to get me to go a couple of years ago. But things didn't work out. There was unrest overseas and we weren't going to get to the places we needed to get to.

Colts tight end Dwayne Allen joined his coach on the eight-day trip. (Courtesy of Colts.com)


I don't think people have an appreciation of how young ... the age of these young people that are over there.

There's training, but they are getting thrown into the fire right away at a really young age. Obviously, they have to grow up really fast. I go back to the teamwork. When you sit on an aircraft carrier, and we got to be right on the deck, we saw the F-18s taking off, then we saw them coming in for landings.

They've got to grab one of four wires to make the landing. The guy up top that's orchestrating, they call it the Ouija board, he's orchestrating everything from up top.

We think we have pressure making calls, when to throw the challenge flag.

The only way off is to get catapulted off. It was better than any ride at any amusement park that you've been to.

You reach a speed of 140 miles per hour in less than three seconds. You hit a bunch of Gs real quick, and then all of a sudden, as soon as you're off the end of the ship, you're zero gravity. It's like you're floating in mid-air with nothing underneath you.

Diego Garcia, when you Google it, and you try to pull it up, you've got to really expand the picture. Then eventually this little island in the Indian Ocean appears.

Korea, we were right on the grounds of the DMZ. It was really surreal, being right there where it splits between North and South Korea. We were right there in the middle where the two sides get together. The room that they come to meet, the table they sit at, we were all in that room.

We went on a Sunday -- normally they don't have any visitors, tours or trips planned.

Two North Korean soldiers came out of their building, we got pictures. They're taking snapshots; they're circling the building, taking snapshots. I'm sure they were sent down to gather some intel, who is in the building.

We're overlooking North Korea. You see their towers. You know there are people inside those posts, watching every move we make.

Andrew Luck (left), whose grandpa served in Korea, went along for the ride. (Courtesy of Colts.com)


When we went to Walter Reed, and you're visiting with people that have been severely injured while serving our country, they feel like they've let their team down. They're in there rehabbing and doing what they have to do to get well, so they can get back and be with their troop. That was, to me, you've got to be kidding me. Nobody wants to let the other guy down. That's why they do what they do. It's unbelievable.

Puts everything in perspective, how fortunate we are, how blessed we are. That we have men and women of all the armed forces doing what they're doing, so we can lead the lives we lead.

We wake up every day dealing with circumstances. I dealt with some a few years ago, and now, going on this tour, it brings back perspective.

Right when you start feeling good about yourself, you start letting your guard down a little bit, something will spring up on you.

Just the fact that they're doing what they're doing, so we can enjoy things we get to enjoy -- you can't put a price tag on it.

Follow Judy Battista on Twitter @judybattista.

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