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NFL-USO Tour Day 4: The road to Kabul

Note: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, joined by New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees and New York Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora, are participating on a seven-day, three-country summer USO Tour led by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen. Also on the trip are two members of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders (Deryn Derbigny and Christina Parker), "Heroes" actor Milo Ventimiglia and former Marshall University coach Jack Lengyel. Pete Abitante, special assistant to the commissioner, is accompanying the group on the trip and will file daily updates.


The morning started early because we needed to be at the flight line by 6 a.m. for our flight to Afghanistan -- but Commissioner Goodell, Osi and Drew wanted to work out first.

So that meant getting up at 4 a.m. -- with bags packed -- and out to the motor pool for the short drive to the workout center.

For sure, the motto for this trip is "The Chairman Never Waits" or "The Chairman Is Never Late" -- that being Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

We said goodbye to the MWR (Morale, Welfare & Recreation) staff that has taken such good care of us and now ranks as family. A special thanks to Col. Scott Rainey and Sgt. Jimmie Thomas and their staffs for all their over-the-top assistance.

We then depart -- on time, of course -- with Admiral Mullen from Baghdad International Airport at 7:15 a.m. aboard our C-17 transport which includes nine cots stacked three-high for those who want to stretch out for the four-plus hour flight.

We are met at Camp Phoenix in Afghanistan (where the time is, wondrously, an hour and-a-half later) by the camp commander, Col. Brian Balfe, a West Point graduate (1983) who works in Boston for IBM but commands the 27th Infantry Brigade out of the New York National Guard.

Here in Kabul, he oversees more than 9,000 soldiers, coalition troops and civilians, who have, according to Balfe, three goals: (1) Complete their mission, (2) Make a difference here every day and (3)Get home safely.

"These kids are impressive," says Col. Balfe. "I don't have any children myself, but I am as proud of them as any father would be. Your visit today is fantastic. It shows all these warriors that people back home know about them, care about them and remember them. This has given all of us an important lift."

Following this, we put on our body armor and pile into an armored personnel vehicle for the ride to Camp Eggers.

We are then briefed by Sgt. Sherry about the ride, and, for the first time, more than ever, it's clear we are in a war zone.

The sergeant then outlined the procedures that will be taken in the unlikely event that our convoy comes under attack. Soon we pulled out onto Violet Road for a ride that took us past the U.S. Embassy and snapshots of Afghani life.

Fifteen minutes later -- without incident -- we arrive at Camp Eggers. At our meet-and-greet, a soldier approaches Commissioner Goodell who has ties to his hometown of Jamestown, New York (this has happened several times during our tour).

Air Force Lieutenant Michelle Bottom introduces herself to Commissioner Goodell because her sister was in the graduating class at Maple Grove Junior-Senior High School at Bemus Point, New York (near Jamestown) when he gave the commencement address there last year.

The lieutenant's father teaches seventh and eighth-grade history at the school. "I'm not a big football fan," she says, "but I just wanted to say hello and thank him for coming."

No ... thank you, lieutenant, for having us.

Petraeus on Point
During yesterday's meeting with General David Petraeus, the commanding general of the Multi-National Force in Iraq, Commissioner Goodell presented the general with a gold commemorative Super Bowl XLII flip coin.

Without missing a beat, the general thanked the commissioner and laughingly said, "Let me know if you need me to flip the coin at the next Super Bowl."

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