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Munoz gets opportunity for pilot's-eye view on NFL-USO tour

Note: Pro Football Hall of Famer Anthony Munoz is in the Middle East this week, part of an NFL-USO Tour, along with Matt Millen and Merril Hoge. The former Cincinnati Bengal great is filing a running diary of the trip for Here are his first two entries:

Second entry: Chance to ride in cockpit

What an experience our USO Tour has been already, and we're just getting started. After beginning our tour at the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing in Southwest Asia, 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 earlier -- 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 pilot's-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 Steelers running back Merril 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 in 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 they are a very close group because of that. 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. 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 -- a 1997 graduate of Mason High School just north of Cincinnati who lives about three minutes from my own home. At each visit, the troops have been so appreciative, especially at the bases in 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 entry. I expect the stories to be just as compelling and inspiring as the ones we've heard so far.

First entry: Visiting troops, bomb facility

Greetings from the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing in Southwest Asia! I am so excited and humbled to be on the NFL tour of the Middle East to support our troops. When we left the States it was Monday and when we arrived it was Tuesday night after a 14-hour flight -- lost a whole day with the time change!

While we're on this tour, we get to see what our troops do to protect our freedom. And they do so much every day. Once we got settled in, we had breakfast with Colonel Kubinek from the U.S. Air Force and took a tour of a B-1 bomber. I was able to climb upstairs, but I couldn't quite squeeze into the cockpit -- I guess we can scratch "pilot" off my list of second careers! I did sign a bomb that was loaded onto the plane, though.

We also got to talk with a crew that had just landed after a 13-hour tour. What they do during their tours is so impressive, and they are all so humble about it. They say it's just part of their job, but it's really so much more.

Later, we had lunch in the mess hall where there was plenty of food and we sat with the troops and got to talk with them about their experiences. A little bit later the base set up a meet and greet in an outdoor tent area for an hour, and we took pictures and signed autographs for our men and women in uniform. What a thrill to be able to chat with them!

After that we traveled to an area called "Ordinances and Bombs" -- where they make the bombs. We watched the crew assemble one and got to sign that one, too. We saw all of the assembled bombs lined up and learned how they are stored. This is important behind-the-scenes work that we don't always think of, but it's just as vital as the job performed by the front-line troops.

Once we had dinner, we had another meet and greet for an hour at the outdoor tent facility for photos and autographs. The great thing from today was that I got to meet fans from Lexington, Ky., Dayton, Ohio, and, of course, from Cincinnati -- Kings High and West High, to be specific. The not-so-great thing: most people are either Steelers, Raiders or Cowboys fans! (I've got to work on that while I'm here.)

Tomorrow we are leaving at 5 a.m. to travel to a new base. Looking forward to meeting new people and making new friends, and I'll tell you all about it in my next blog. See you then!

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