Four coaches connect with soldiers on NFL-USO tour

As Andy Reid visited injured soldiers in a hospital at Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan, he couldn't get over how eager they were to return to action.

"You see guys in there, some of them missing limbs and some pretty beat up," the Philadelphia Eagles coach said. "These guys couldn't wait to go back out there, if they could, and fight to protect our country. It's quite an amazing thing."

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» NFL-USO Tour:Day 1 | Day 2

Reid and fellow coaches John Fox of the Carolina Panthers, Marvin Lewis of the Cincinnati Bengals and Brad Childress of the Minnesota Vikings met with hundreds of soldiers at the air field north of Kabul over the Fourth of July weekend.

The NFL-USO coaches tour is in its second year. Last year, five other coaches visited troops in Iraq.

Watching a war unfold on television half a world away and then suddenly being with the soldiers doing the fighting was an eye-opening experience for the coaches.

"I'm not sure that in the States we really have a full grasp of what they are doing over there," Reid said in a telephone interview Sunday night from Ramstein Air Base in Germany as the group made its way back to the U.S. "Their desire is quite incredible."

Reid and his fellow coaches spent 2½ days at Bagram and a few days in Germany meeting with the troops, many of whom were just itching to talk a little football.

"The Eagles fans, they wanted know why Donovan is a Redskin," Reid said.

The reference, of course, was the trade that sent quarterback Donovan McNabb from Philadelphia to Washington.

"I told them that's how the NFL works now," Reid said. "I also said that Donovan's a great person and I loved being with him."

Fox said the visit was a life-changing experience for him.

"We were in an ICU and I saw a kid who was 21. I have a son who's 23," Fox said. "The kid is laying in a bed with a sniper rifle shot in his arm. You look at these young guys and see the sacrifices they are making and it's just incredible."

Several military bases are located in North Carolina and South Carolina, so Fox was peppered with Panthers questions at nearly every turn.

"Most of them wanted to know about Steve Smith playing flag football," the coach said, referring to the star wide receiver who will miss training camp after breaking his left arm while playing in an adult flag football league.

"Most of them love Steve, and they know he'll be back for the opener, so they weren't too concerned," Fox said.

 Eagles coach 
 Andy Reid  

on visiting U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan and Germany

There also was talk about similarities between football and the military.

"Look, they probably have the ultimate motivators in their leaders. You can see that by the commitment these soldiers have," Fox said. "We as coaches, we can just tell them that we're proud of them and appreciate their sacrifices and their efforts."

Even after such a short stay, Reid picked up on how the troops, not just the Americans, are trying to work with the people of Afghanistan.

"There's a fellowship among them, and they are from different countries," Reid said. "They are making people aware that we're not just the almighty coming in to change their way but are trying to help them in positive way. And that teamwork is a neat thing to see."

It was hard to tell who was more overwhelmed during the tour, the coaches or the soldiers.

"We're thanking them and they're thanking us, and it's who can thank each other the hardest," Fox said.

Added Reid: "As happy as we were to see them, they were for us. I'm not sure we probably didn't get more out of it than they did. But they sure were happy and welcomed us in."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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