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 three NFL players -- San Diego Chargers defensive end Luis Castillo, Chicago Bears defensive tackle Tommie Harris and Carolina Panthers defensive end Mike Rucker -- and Sports Illustrated/NBC journalist Peter King on a week-long tour to U.S. military bases in Kyrgyzstan and Afghanistan. As he has done before, Krichavsky will file a daily journal covering the trip:
We arrived on Day 5 of the NFL-USO tour at Jalalabad Air Base, which is located approximately 60 miles east of the Afghani capital of Kabul. The topography and landscape in Jalalabad are much different than the desert terrain we experienced previously at Bagram and in Kandahar. There is enough water in the Konar Valley where Jalalabad is located to provide relatively lush, green terrain. While the terrain may be a bit less stark or foreboding, the danger here for U.S. forces is as high as anywhere in Afghanistan. Jalalabad is located no more than 200 miles from the Pakistani border, which we've repeatedly heard soldiers refer to as the "hottest of hot spots" right now.
There have been many moments on this trip that have reminded us how small the world is. One of these moments came in Jalalabad, when Jeff Anthony of the USO happened to introduce himself to Lieutenant Colonel White at the base headquarters. The Lieutenant Colonel asked Jeff if he was part of the NFL tour and if so whether Tommie Harris had made it to Jalalabad. Lieutenant Colonel White then explained that he and Tommie's father, who was a career Army Infantry man, had served together in the 1990's in the First Cavalry Division based out of Fort Hood, Texas.
Once we tracked Tommie down for Lieutenant Colonel White and introduced the two, Tommie quickly got on his cell phone and called his father. Despite the fact that it was 3 AM at his house in Texas, Mr. Harris got on the phone and exclaimed loud enough so that everyone within ten feet of Tommie's phone could hear him, "My Lord. That's a good man you're with, Tommie! Give him a hug for me! I haven't seen him for ages."
Throughout this trip, Tommie's military background has allowed him to form quick bonds with the troops. Tommie was born overseas when his father was serving in Germany. As a "Military Brat," Tommie spent parts of his childhood in Aberdeen, Maryland; Colorado Springs, Colorado; Killian, Texas; and Germany, as his father moved from base to base. His experiences on these Military outposts gave Tommie a very good sense of what life is like for our men and women in the armed forces.
Tommie and the rest of the NFL group spent the morning in Jalalabad touring the base and meeting with the men and women there. The troops' dedication to their mission and commitment to each other continued to amaze us. As Sergeant Brian Furman, a Blackhawk Helicopter pilot from St. Louis, Missouri who is on his third tour of active duty (two in Iraq and now one in Afghanistan) told us, "This is what we do. We serve America because we are trained to do so. And there is nothing I'd rather do."
One of the highlights of the day in Jalalabad was joining Sgt. Furman and his crew on a training mission in their Blackhawk Helicopter. We got an aerial tour of the picturesque valley as the soldiers practiced escape maneuvers, touched the chopper down in difficult mountain settings (which allows them to drop ground troops anywhere) and even took a bit of target practice as they fired off rounds into the unoccupied mountains.
After the helicopter tour, the players and Peter went to the MWR center on base to meet-and-greet soldiers who we hadn't reached on our base tour. One commanding officer actually marched his entire group of 60 or so soldiers in formation over to the MWR to meet with the NFL contingent. When asked why he did so, the Company First Sergeant replied matter of factly, "They all love football."
That evening we left Jalalabad and traveled to an undisclosed location where we had the opportunity to meet with a group of Green Berets, one of the most elite special force units in the Armed Forces. This was an experience that our players will likely never forget, as they got to see "the best of the best" in their own element. I'd like to share more about this experience, but am unable to do so given the secrecy that's required regarding the composition, whereabouts and mission of the Green Berets. Peter King does plan, however, to do a profile on one of the members of the Green Berets for the upcoming edition of Sports Illustrated.
One more quick story that isn't classified and shouldn't go untold: This morning in Jalalabad, I awoke early as is our routine and sped off to the shower trailer before the group headed over to the DFAC for breakfast.
Upon getting out of the shower, I wrapped myself in my towel, put on a sweatshirt to protect myself against the chill in the air, and started walking back to the tent where we were being housed. This tent was located more than a Peyton Manning "hail mary" heave from the shower trailer.
On my way back, I happened upon an Army drill sergeant leading his soldiers in morning calisthenics. "One two three ... one. One, two, three ... two" they shouted out in unison. Upon seeing me in my towel and sweatshirt with my toiletry bag and other clothes in hand, the drill sergeant halted the calisthenics and approached me. With the eyes of his entire unit on me, he asked why I was covering the bottom half of my body with nothing but a towel. I explained that I didn't know this was a problem. "Ignorance is not an excuse!" he shouted back.
Sufficiently humiliated, I went back to the shower trailer and put on the warm-up pants that I had worn over to the shower.
Given the good-natured ribbing that occurs in locker rooms, Army barracks and probably every other place where guys congregate in close quarters, Tommie, Luis and Mike have taken to having a bit of fun by reminding me of this episode. About once every thirty minutes or so, it seems, one of them finds an opportunity to inform me that "Ignorance is not an excuse!"